Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jon Harrow, The Child

We came upon the child in the alley in the Dockside, and Eric was standing before the body looking down.  I came to him and placed my arm around him, trying to comfort my young Protectant.  Dawnstemple had no true brothers or sisters, but I knew he was thinking of the orphans he had grown to adulthood with before leaving for the Order.  His eyes were bleary and for the first time I wondered whether my knight was ready for this work.  The body before us, shattered by the cruel sorceries we had been following for only a day had claimed another victim.

“I came across children discussing this, this.  I was in the Marketplace and, they said the body.  I, I need time Brother.” Eric looked swollen in the face, and I smelled the bottle of sour he had thrown into the alley upon his breath.  All men seek courage, but I wished he had gone with faith over drink in this situation.

“We will see the girl is buried well, Brother Eric, and make this your call to arms.  I refuse to let another one of the innocent fall to this creature.  We will take the body to Loren and he will tell us…”
I had only enough time to jump away.  The tears had turned, and I felt the breeze of the cudgel as it left his side and went towards my face.

“I know, Brother, but we cannot tell how long the creature had held sway.  Perhaps this one was our assailant.”

“I refuse Jon.  If you wish to take this innocent to that, that monster, I will personally draw the Faith upon you.  I will call to the Suncrier, the Hall of Protection, and the Hall of the Masters, and see you offered to the Sun for communing with sorcerers.”  Eric’s chest swelled with his breath, leaking out in short chuffing sounds of a laborer.  I saw the haze of battle in his eyes, and I backed away raising hands and offering comfort.

“I understand Eric, and I will follow your desire.  You know that we will be set back by your decision Dawnstemple?”

“For this, I will bide our time Harrow.  We do not do this to our flock, and this child is an innocent to be protected… We should have protected her Jon.” The tears came again, and I worried about Eric as I embraced my Brother.

He was one of us, and would serve well as a Crier, or even a Justice if we kept him away from the Inquiry.  But his arm was strong and his mind clear and I needed him now to be the strength of the Sun’s hand, and help me deliver this monster to its final rest.

“She seems to be of age, though as you claim I assume her innocence.  This creature would have an easier time taking one who was pure, or so corrupted by sorcery to be an empty vessel.  She has the signs from the Tomcat, though she has been damaged far more.  The puddles of water about suggest she had frozen from in to out, and she seems to have shattered.”  Dawnstemple was back, and I agreed with his ideas on the death.

“This body was moved, Brother Eric.  And recently to thaw here instead of there.  The body has none of the putrescence of neither Leon nor Yuri, and I would say it has been hours, perhaps a day.” I began saying prayers of succor and guiding to the body, though it may have been my only true prayers in year.  I wished the spirit no suffering, and none who suffered this violation should feel pain in its last.

“Do you think it has taken again?” Eric had said his own side of the prayer, to call his Order’s dead to lead her through the Lightless Lands to the Hall of the Sun. 

“Perhaps.  Perhaps it was defeated, and fled from the city.  I doubt this, but there will be no more for this creature Eric.  Do you swear by it?” I reached my hand to him, and grasped his gauntlet in my hardened fist.

“By the Light that calls at Dawn and the Light that battles the dark.  By the Sun’s glory and the Moon’s shield.  We will solve this Brother, or my life is forfeit.”   I knew Eric to be a man of his word, and I wished to not see him fall for his oath.

We brought a Crier and several novices from the Church of Dawn’s Tears to take the girl to a crypt until we could identify her.  The process would require many runners to take a drawing through the streets.  She was pretty in a plain way, perhaps Penny or her sisters would know of her.  Sadly a girl of such beauty would be called by some of the street’s own criers, and perhaps she had been offered some silver or gold and denied it.  If so someone may know her, or perhaps she was just a baker’s daughter, or a weaver’s prentice.  Someone must know her.

I walked the streets of the Dockside myself, letting Eric sit behind at our rented rooms for the day.  I went from prentice shop to small hovel, merchant’s house to Guildhall.  I spent the hours seeing the face of a dozen mothers and fathers hoping for news of their lost daughters.  There are stories of girls running away in every town, but in the Fall there are hundreds every season who disappear.  Some leave to join a Sisterhood, others walk the streets, and still others choose some young laborer or gentleman to take her on adventures.  I knew she was a man’s daughter, a woman’s pride, and I wished to know what had taken this girl into the clutches of the monster.

I stopped by the Temple to hear news and found it in the cloisters surrounding the Crypts.  Several novices and old Sister Timey were sitting with a family as the mother cried into Timey’s shoulder.  The two could have been mother and daughter themselves, Timey’s calloused hands running over the woman’s hair and pressing her to her aged breast.  Timey saw me and handed the mother off to her Protectant, a beautiful Sword' s daughter to the Sun, and who had stripped herself to novice brown to stay in the Cloister.

“Young Jon.  It has been so long, and my eyes did not think to see you again in these cloisters after the incident with Novice Brilliant.” Timey’s missing teeth made her smile endearing, but I knew her for what she was.  She was one of the Wise, a sorcerer sworn to the Light, who gave only her own blood or her novice’s woman’s blood to the Lord for her spellcraft.  She had made her oaths, and as one who bled to the Sun she and her Protectant bore the blade rather than the spades and cudgels His male worshippers had to carry. 

“Beautiful Timey, Lady of the Hills.  How is the mother?” I kissed her on the cheek, feeling the leathery texture of her skin.  She had spent so many years amongst the Isles and in other lands that she seemed more institution that woman.  I had been a novice myself when the cloister event had occurred.

“Her daughter will be laid to rest with a full service.  Is this your inquiry?” she looked into my eye with a mixture of fond memories and . . . fear?

“Yes, it is my inquiry.  What seems to be the problem Sister?” I leaned in close to take her arm and she cradled my own and patted me on the hand.

“I have much to tell you, Jon, and very little of it is good.  Come, and we will speak sweet Child Harrow, but first we will go to the Depths.” She smiled at me as we went to the large oaken door that led down.

The Quiet Depths.  I hated the place when I was a novice, and spent as little time as possible.  This was the place for meetings, and punishment or ‘contemplation’.  Timey had sent me down there many a time, and it felt like old times.  The Quiet was the home of the smaller crypts of priests and protectors who fell in combat, but were not worthy of a large niche in the upper cloister or the Temple.  I knew at least a few who had fallen there as friends and allies, though coming to visit made me hope I would not wind up here.

“Ahh, now we are safe.  I have had the novices and acolytes sent back to the cloister waiting for you.  The tombs of forgotten priests from a century ago can wait to be cleaned.  I have heard you have been to Loren Kisamain.  Oh Jack, I remember you as a rake but a sorcerer’s imp?” the clucking tsk from Sister Timey was the worst.  I knew I was caught, and hoped to sneak away as I had so many times from this place.

“And I was to bring the bodies to the Temple?  Lady Fivegrace had requested me for the Inquiry, and I would expect the Lady to have your ear in such things.” I was surprised at Timey’s response; a knowing nod as I sat exasperated, propping myself against one of the crypt walls.

“And you do not believe I placed Kisamain at her Lady’s call?  I am a Wizen of the Sun’s Blood, but I know my limitations.  I fear for you, however, because there are things that even that elder will not know.  Forgotten things, kept quiet by the Ten Churches and even the Cults the world around.”

The Ten Churches?  The great halls of our Lord, across the seas and atop great mountains, the Churches were where the High Priests dwelled and pondered with their cracked black skins, exposing themselves to the full power of the Lord and his Host to bring knowledge to the Brothers and Sisters.

“Ahh, I see you did not believe.  Not many can stare at the Sun, but those who do have long memories.  
The Sword's daughters and Wizen of Blood keep some of their secrets, and pass their on through blood and flesh.  We remember the Wars of Faith, the Rise of the Pretender, the Moon’s Cry.  And you have found a place in the records of our newest endeavor, dear young Jack, though I fear you may not come to enjoy it.” She looked on me with that same look of fear, and I knew where it came from now.

I am a drunkard, a carouser, and a failure kept only for his talents with staff and tongue.  To be placed in such company?  I may dirty their clear clean waters, and leave a few Sisters less bloody.

“Jon, you hunt a creature that has not been seen in some time.  Though I fear that we cannot aid you directly, we can point you in the right direction, and protect you with our hands and eyes as long as we can.” Timey placed her gnarled hand against my own, and whispered the name to me.

Defiler.  Priest breaker.  Nasty bits of work, heretics turned to spirit and corrupted by magic long forgotten.  To the Wizen they are bogeymen, things to scare acolytes and swordsisters, those who made their pacts to live forever at the price of the cold.  I had heard of such a thing once, when a certain Wizen much older than I had chastised me then quickly quieted.  Tamera Sailrunner was her name, and even if Timey had lost some of her strength her ability to turn my bowels to water and make my balls crawl into hiding had not.

“They are not able to be killed.  Contained?  Yes, but only in a Vessel.  They feast on heat, and spirit, and broken oaths.  They will take my magic and twist it against me . . .  but not a Chanter.” She smiled, and raised her hand to my lips. “Kiss my palm, Brother, for I deliver your salvation in it.”

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