2nd Day of Harvest Season, 342 Years After Mourning
When I heard the footsteps, I knew they didn’t belong to Hilla; her feet traveled a different path, one filled with the soft lift of the sun and hope. Two wardens took her place, shuffling down the damp, stone halls. Silently, they dragged me out of my cell and back into the world of men and elves. My first steps outside were trembling and I immediately lunged forward, my weakened eyes blinded by the brilliance of the morning.
Grand Cardinal Imorgan waited for me in the courtyard, along with the assembled priests. Among the servants, a blue head scarf bobbed around and I felt certain Wohlrin waited with them, my eyes were too weak to confirm my suspicions. I wanted to cross over to them, the servants, the ones I knew I could trust, but she spoke first.
“Brother Borchain, the Sisters have poured out their mercy upon you,” she spoke the words without emotion, an announcement, nothing more. “Your sins have been erased, the blood of another man scrubbed away. You stand before us clean and the Sisters embrace you. The temple opens its doors to you. Welcome, Brother Borchain.”
“Welcome, Brother Borchain,” the other priests intoned.
I froze, too stunned to speak. She avoided mentioning the beatings, or the dungeon, and by doing so missed an opportunity to remind the other priests of her power and his shame. She has a bigger plan, one that my weakened mind is too fragile to unravel.
“I’m afraid you’ve joined us during difficult times,” she continued. It’s been over a century since one survived the judgment. I was the first in over a hundred years. She must have trembled inside, though on the outside, she stood tall and her steady voice rang out over the courtyard. She could have chosen how to interpret the laws of reinstatement, but it was easier for her to treat me as if I were a newly arrived cleric. “Plague threatens our city. The Pedestal is besieged with victims, death lingering over their shoulders. Every pair of hands, young and old, are needed to combat this sickness threatening to destroy us all. I’m afraid there is little time for learning and contemplation. Purify yourself today, soul and body” she said, turning away and wrinkling her nose allowing a hint of humanity to break through the tough exterior. “Tomorrow, you and Brother Trinn will distribute food.”
A small shiver crept up my spine. She knows. Trinn, a priest unfamiliar to me, must be one of hers. An informant now privy to every scrap of information about the kitchen, food stores, grain . . . the farm.
My thoughts turn to the girls, Hilla and Poppy, and I ask your protection over them as they follow the river. I long to join them and see hope in the eyes of children, to watch their hands build something in a dying world, but I suspect I am needed here, to counter Imorgan and uncover the truths hidden in the shadows. In that vein, I have begun to search for allies. I must watch and listen for that which is unsaid and unseen. Among the priests, I am positive some still serve you, Holy Sisters, but contacting them is a delicate matter. Wohlrin is your servant, may no man or beast question his heart. He has taken in another boy as his apprentice and swears to the boy’s loyalty.
“We make oaths to the Sisters, lad, not other men,” I admonished half-heartedly. We are human and there are bigger mistakes than a slip of the tongue.
“I swear by the Silver Crowns, the boy is trustworthy. He’s a mouse. Quiet and unseen, he wriggles everywhere. Any building, any dining hall, the market, the taverns, he’s even snuck into the Merchant’s Guildhall. She would have starved him!” the boy continued under my penetrating gaze. “He had no fever and she starved him!”
I had already heard the rumors. Imorgan refuses food to any victim showing symptoms of the disease. Thirty-two died yesterday. Thirteen children, eleven women, and eight men. After hearing Hilla’s story of survival, I am confident all of them need not have perished.
“He had a wound on his shoulder,” Wohlrin continued. “Their cart collapsed. She said it was the disease and refused him food. I stole him away the night his mother passed on. Gave him some bread.”
“He can sneak anywhere, you say?”
“I’m afraid you’ll need a new kitchen boy. Mouse must travel another path.” The idea came to me suddenly, a spark of a plan doomed to fail before it even began, but so impossible that it just might work. Sisters, if you’re distributing miracles, we’re going to need one.