36th Day of Ripening Season, 342 years after Mourning
The larders are haunted. Spirits, they say, and wraiths! The children here do not need lessons on death; they are familiar with that journey. Nevertheless, I have reminded them of your promises, Sisters. We read the descriptions of paradise in the holy book. We recite the songs of your mercy nightly. We begin the day with prayers. We toss the salt under our feet to tread into the floor and honor the life granted to us each day. We know the dead are welcomed to your bosom, or cast away into the netherworld. Through it all, I have tried to assuage the children’s fears, but my words falls on deaf ears. The nuts keep disappearing, leading Ivette and Ellison to conclude foul spirits are raiding the little food we have managed to store. This morning they have asked if I know of any traps to capture a wraith.
I wonder, has dear Tisai favored us with a visit? Blessed Sister, have you brought forth one of your imps to keep us company? I entreat you to wash away the fear that lives and breathes among us that we might welcome your creature with a warm embrace. The mischievous imp may yet bring moments of much-needed laughter to our lives. While the past has tried to rob these youths of their future, the heat steals away whatever present they have found. The few smiles glimpsed upon our arrival have faded to a dull memory.
Ellison and Barly, along with a new arrival, Niles, have begun harvesting the barley. Two days in a row, they have returned from the fields dripping with sweat. The large buckets, filled with grain are dropped in the cellar, before the boys collapse on the floor. Ellison has taught the girls how to clean and soak the barley. In a few days, we shall have ale. A welcome treat–if the boys can continue working together. Niles is older than Ellison, and while he shares the same grief as the others, he is more bitter. The outbursts of anger, brief as they are, come without notice. Any man with a compassionate soul would understand his pain, but there is little I can do other than pray. Only one of you can ease his sorrow and while it is understandable, these fits have added a certain anxiety to our days.
Can you tell, Sisters, that I have skirted around the death? What shall I say that hasn’t been said? There are no words that can erase the past and we have learned our lesson. It does little good to embrace the warning, I’m afraid. A handful of youths are ill-equipped to defend an entire farm from unwelcome visitors. We are too few; too inexperienced. I am but a priest, a humble servant, not a soldier. So we have spent two days identifying hiding spaces, practicing how to run away, and how to become as silent as a hidden thought. What paltry gifts I have bestowed upon them! Nothing more than a coward’s penance.
Thankfully, the mercenary has bequeathed us with offerings that are more substantial; a notched sword–quickly snatched up by Ivette–two small knives with obsidian blades, a bottle of oil, a whetstone, and some twine. Sewn into the cuff of his boot, Ellison found a silver ring with a claw symbol embossed upon its surface and five pieces of silver. The boys were excited and I had not the heart to tell them the coins are worth less than a mug of ale. His identity remains a mystery, but I have taken the signet ring and hope to make inquiries once back behind the familiar walls of Aramas. Perhaps he was nothing more than a simple mercenary, but the hairs on my neck stand up when I hold the knives within my hands–once again awakening my inquisitive nature.
And the blood, you ask? I hear your questions within my mind. As you know, the blood continues to clothe me with shame. These words crawl across the parchment, inky trails created by hands that never stop trembling. I must return soon. I need forgiveness. Forgiveness from you, Blessed Sisters, and from my brother and sister servants. I must perform the ritual. Perhaps then the nightmares will cease.
I have one task remaining before I can begin the return trip. I have begun teaching Noreen her letters. My hope is that written words will serve her where spoken ones cannot. She is a quick learner and began to form words on her own after only two days of instruction. Her proficiency has improved to such a degree that she performs a list of chores that I have written out for her daily. Satisfied that I had someone with which to communicate, I began my preparations. Only after I had completed the instructions for her during my absence did I realize my mistake. She can read the words I write, but cannot communicate them to the others. Therefore, a broken, but healing, Ivette joined our lesson last night. When I am confident she can read simple letters, I will take my leave.
I do not know what future exists for these children, Sisters, but I can see your hand at work in our lives. I do not know why you have singled me out for this task. I am honored, yet not altogether convinced you have chosen the right man. I am not trained for such things. Growing up behind the righteous walls of your temple, I have little experience in the ways of survival. I think too much. I question when I should remain silent. I break the rules when I must. I am a murderer. What value do I have? Other than history, what life lessons can I bestow upon them? I know not the answer to my questions. All I have is unyielding faith in you, Sisters. As their small, dirty hands pluck fruit from the bushes and fashion weapons from abandoned tree branches, I see possibilities. I see life. I vow to do everything in my power to see it flourish.