43rd Day of Ripening Season, 342 years After Mourning
Ten days have passed since I walked out the temple doors, down the steps, and past the throng of desperately sick victims in the street. Without a backward glance, with the lad Barly on my right and quiet Noreen on my left, we left the other temples behind us, stepped off the Pedestal of the Gods, and followed the river north out of the city. During those ten days, we have rediscovered laughter, I have taught two young girls their letters, and I have plunged a knife into a man’s neck. What I failed to do was my wash the blood off my hands. My long pale fingers tremble still, and though they may appear to be as white as alabaster, even in the shadows of candlelight, in my eyes the fingers holding the pen as it scratches across an old, wrinkled piece of vellum are the brightest crimson of guilt.
I had foolishly thought the cleansing ritual would free me.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I stumbled into the main hall just after meditation hour with two sacks of grain dangling from a shoulder yoke. The eyes of more than one priest turned away, as if fearing what I’d find within the depths of their eyes.
“Master Borchain,” Wohlrin cried, running toward me.
Baffled, I watched my fellow brothers and sisters in the clergy walk past me without welcoming me, or offering to assist with my burden. Less than three paces away, one priest spoke soft words to an old man with raw, open wounds covering the entire left side of his face. Wrapping a linen blanket around the dying man, the priest—my fellow laborer, a man I had broken bread with over a hundred times, a thousand times—glanced furtively at me before turning to another patient.
“He is afraid,” Wohlrin whispered to me as he threw one of my arms across his shoulders, offering his young body as a crutch for my old, weary one.
I nodded. “Of whom?” I asked. It was a frivolous question, for I knew the answer before he spoke.
He glanced quickly around and fearing that we would be overheard, he tried, but failed, to mask the worry in his voice as he said, “I’m pleased to see you, Master. Sister Imorgan said it would be another four days or longer before your return.”
With those words, he confirmed suspicions that have long haunted me. While I have been playing farmer at an abandoned home beyond the city’s gates, Sister Imorgan has been playing High Priestess, for at least four days.
The grain, I am happy to write, survived the journey. The kitchen has taken a full third for ale. The remainder has been set aside for hard bread and even as I write this, I can smell the dough baking. I might have to taste the first batch, for sleep will elude me tonight.
Upon my confession, Sister Imorgan has called for a council. I know not whether she seeks the position of Cardinal Bishop, or to defrock and denounce me, the High Cardinal, in front of the entire temple for my crime. Whatever her goals, she will achieve them. Many priests already look to her for advice and I cannot fault them. When we are pushed to the limits of our strength, when death surrounds us on all fronts, when the life we have is given to others without respite until we have nothing left, we want someone else to stand up and make the hard decisions. We easily follow whoever steps forward as long as they are wearing the robe of leadership, no matter how laced it is with bitterness. Whatever Imorgan hopes to achieve in the morning, I have no doubt it will be done, unless one of your hands intervene, Divine Sisters.
I await your judgment. For leaving even though I smelled rebellion in the air, for allowing rebellion in this most holy place where servitude and compassion should be weighed higher than petty power squabbles, for the murder of a man, and, not least of which, for the deaths of those who perished while I was away.
We lost twenty-two today: seven men, eleven children, and four women. Their names and races have been duly recorded in the ledger.