Morning of the tenth day of the second month, 217.
The Church of Tubbius, Myrkentown.
The entry hall.
"Why are we here, Father? And why are you dressed in your robes and that funny hat? And why is Mr. Alldale pushing you in your chair instead of letting you walk? And why does everyone have on a robe? And--"
"Wait, dear Nicholas! Stop!"
Thinking himself so ordered, Jack Alldale, town crier and ever-loyal Tubbian, stops pushing the wheelchair belonging to the Tubbius Regalis.
"Are y'all ri', Lord Tready?"
"Of course I am, Jack, mmph; you keep pushing. I was talking to my son."
"Oh!" Wheels squeak and groan, and forward the chair rolls again as Aloisius pushes out a slow, heavy breath.
"My son, to answer your questions, mmph, in turn, we are here because I am hungry, hm hm, and I do not want to cook anything."
"Hungry, Father? But we just ate before we left the house!"
"Shush. You know quite well I am always starving no matter what I eat."
"Tha's ri', Tready."
"Shush, Jack." A rosy flush comes to Treadwell's cheeks, mostly hidden by the flowing white beard. "And this 'funny hat' is a miter. It signifies, mmph, my place here, hm hm, over the members of this church, as does the rest of my yellow clothing."
"Ooooooh. . . but why is Mr. Alldale pushing you around?"
"Ri', m'lord! Why can't we get one of the novices t'do it?" The town crier chuckles merrily, pausing in the pushing to scratch at an itch on the side of his paunch.
"And Jack here is pushing me so that I don't have to walk everywhere. This church, mmph, has larger rooms than our house, you see, and longer distances. I would rather roll about than walk about, my boy, hm hm. And, lastly, mmph, everyone has on a robe because everyone here believes in the blessings and guidance of Tubbius, mmph mmph."
"What's a Tubbius?"
"One moment, Tready. Got to get this door ope'." Jack Alldale stops pushing the wearying mass that is Aloisius Treadwell, toddling a few feet and hefting open one of the great doors leading from the entrance hall to the dining room--one of the most sacred and furnished rooms in the church, with its tables pushed end to end to form one long table, its multitude of plushly lined, stout-legged chairs, and, currently, its massive, seemingly endless, spread of breakfast foods. Eggs and ham and bacon and breads and cheeses abound; many bouncy-bellied men of middle age and older, all in their appropriate robes, sit around this table, indulging their gluttonous delights. . . until one catches sight of the entering trio and the chair.
"Holy Tubbius!" one squeaks, surprised, from the head of the table; this one is Tubbius Princeps James Wilde, second in size to the Holy One Himself (surpassing even Treadwell's brother and Nicholas's uncle, Langley) and blessed to a seemingly immortal lifespan, and Mr. Wilde carefully stands, rising only to bow to his superior before shuffling hastily across the floor to join the newcomers, his purple robe whispering all about as he hurries.
"Jack, I shall take over here. You go enjoy your breakfast, and, My Lord, you have brought one of your blessed sons with you, I see!"
"This is Nicholas, James, mmph mmph. He is the one I am teaching to make toys."
"Nicholas!" Wheeziness catches up with the portly priest, who pauses in his greetings long enough to get his breath. The toymaking son cannot help but give a giggle, taking in the sight of his father's friends all pausing in their dining and all watching this scene. "This way, Nicholas," Wilde finally manages, hefting Treadwell's chair slowly forward and along.
"What's a Tubbius?" The senior Treadwell finally squeaks in reply, nodding to his followers, a signal for them to resume their meal. "Tubbius makes everything grow, my boy, mmph mmph. The crops, the plants," a pat-pat at his exorbitant, gurgling stomach and a nod, "people, hm hm. He wants all of His children to be happy and very fat and well-fed. All we have to do, mmph, is serve Him by helping care for what nature sets in motion."
"So all of these men. . . they are farmers, Father?"
"Among other things, mmph. Many hold other jobs, too. You know Mr. Alldale, yes? Jack? He shouts messages out to folks in town, you know, and so do his sons that are about your age."
"Why are there all those pigs behind the church, too, Father?"
"Here we are, Holy Tubbius," James Wilde notes as he eases Treadwell's chair close to the table, within reach for those pudgy, baggy arms, "and here you are, young master," he adds as he gently lifts and pulls out a chair opposite his own. He then eases back into the one to Treadwell's right, motioning to the child to sit at his father's left. The boy does as indicated, giving the food a jaw-dropping grin as he finally takes in sights and smells up close.
"The pigs, mmph--thank you, James!--the pigs are there because Tubbius finds them appealing, mmph. Pigs, you see, are nature's embodiment of what we do here in the church: they live as one in the earth, mmph, very much so due to their time in their wallows, and they birth many young, mmph, but, hee hee, well, Nicholas, we have Pinky at home, yes?"
"Umm, yes, Father."
"And what is Pinky best known for, my child?"
"Well. . . she eats, Father. She eats, and eats, and eats, and you keep having to give her a bigger pen." Giggling follows.
"Indeed! Our Pinky is wonderfully blessed, mmph. Tubbius is quite pleased, you see, with behavior like that. There is no harm in it to anyone at all, hm hm, and we show our devotion all around our bodies, mmph, where men and women of other faiths might carry them on a string of beads, mmph, or a symbol on their necks or arms. Hmph!" Fork plunks into eggs that are still warm. "Everyone around us can look and say, 'Those men are Tubbians!' with no lack of certainty, mmph, about where we stand and what we believe!"
"And that is why you eat so much? To. . . to show your worship to your god?"
"Quite so! And, well, to fill the tum-tum, too, my Nicholas. There is no harm in aught of that, is there? You are a boy who is about to grow into a man, mmph. I have heard your voice squeak a bit, mmph, and you have grown an inch or so since I let you work at the toy shop, mmph mmph. Why should you not grow as Tubbius wishes, hm hm, and show all people where you sit?"
The boy thinks on this for a moment, looking at first at his father and then at the happy, merry crowd around him. A moment is taken to cautiously form words.
"Can. . . we eat here often?"
"And do I have to farm, too?"
"You will, eventually, yes, but you are used to that at home, hm?"
The child nods his head and takes up his fork and knife. "And will I have one of these robes? They look warm and soft. What color would I get?"
"Green, at first, young master," Wilde chimes in, as Treadwell is already stuffing his face. "The colors show your place in the church. New members wear green at first, but as they grow and learn more of Holy Tubbius, then they take on new garments."
"Learn more? I would have another tutor?"
"Not entirely, dear boy. I am sure that your father and your uncle would be more than happy to teach you about the truths found in our copies of The Folds of Tubbius." Here, he reaches inside his purple robe and carefully pulls out the slim book all Tubbians carry with them, handing it across the table with a slight grunt. "This is our holy text, child, dictated through the founder of our faith, the mortal voice of Tubbius Himself, your great-great-great-grandfather, whose post in the church your father has inherited."
Nicholas stops eating and puts down his utensils, reverently taking up the text in both hands. He has his father's love of books and reading, it seems; in fact, as Aloisius has noted many times, he sees in Nicholas himself nearly sixty years earlier. The boy carefully opens the book to its first page. Text beginning with an illuminated "O" showing an image of a circular Tubbian dressed like his father starts, "Our Tubbius nurtures and blesses the harvest and us. Praise him!" Below this, the text breaks to another image, this one of Tubbius Himself, immense body sitting in its green plain, visible from the belly up. More text continues, but it goes unread for now as Nicholas Treadwell gently closes and returns the book, a grin spread wide on his face as his father finally speaks up again.
"I think you shall fit here just fine, my boy, mmph mmph!"