The Last Lantern

Chapter 4 - Warrior Priests and Bastards' Eyes

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009

 Molly was awake at dawn, not that the sun had awakened her. It was hid behind a wildly mad snowstorm. Wind whistled in the eaves and between the panes. Snowflakes were being driven so hard they made a shushing sound against her window.  She put her nose up to the panes but snow had stuck and frozen over the glass so there was little she could make out.

She washed and dressed in her usual, non-formal clothes, pants and a heavy knit sweater, and pulled on her favorite soft boots.

This time she did use the rail to go down the grand stairwell. This time of day she always had the house to herself; it was why she got up so early. Grandfather wouldn't wake for hours and she could sit in the kitchen and harrass the cook and be fed hot chocolate and buttered eggs which would hold her over until breakfast.  Miss Throckmorton wouldn't appear until breakfast, so she had hours before she had to sit down to boring and hated lessons. She vaulted onto the rail, and was grinning as she accelerated on the turn halfway down the grand staircase, and then opened her mouth in a horrified 'oh' when she saw that someone else was awake.  The priest, of all people, was standing in the grand foyer watching her slide down the railing.

She braked as she neared the bottom and jumped off at the end quite expertly.

The priest cocked his head and regarded her before saying, "Good morrow, Lady Elizabeth."

"Call me Molly, everyone does. I like it better," she told him.

"Lady Molly then," he conceded.

"Thank you. It will be hours before they put out breakfast," she explained to him. "But if you come to the kitchen, cook will give us scones and hot chocolate. Or aren't you allowed to eat them?"

"I appreciate the invitation," the priest replied soberly.  "I'm allowed to eat what I like. Or what I can get."

"Do you ever have to fast?" Molly asked as they walked toward the kitchens.

"No. Fasting is not required by my order."

"Oh. But you cannot tell us your name?" Molly asked, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye as they negotiated the stairs down to the kitchen.

"You may call me Vaal. When we take the Black we renounce our given and family names, and are named anew by our god."

"Oh.  He talks to you? I mean.. Well, the priest here says The Mother speaks to her, but only in her mind. I've never heard the Mother speak, not even in my mind. Does your god speak aloud?"

"Perhaps 'speak' is too narrow a word for gods. They whisper to us, they show us things, they provide guidance and sustenance, and even, sometimes, provide us amusement."

Molly frowned. She swore he was hiding a laugh behind his lips.  And his eyes looked suspiciously like he was amused by her.

"You're not very scary," Molly offered.

This revelation and admission made him bow to her as they reached the kitchen. "Thank you for that, Lady Molly.  I hope nothing I do whilst I'm staying in your home will change that."

"Do you intend to do something frightening?" Molly asked wistfully.  Nothing exciting every happened to her.

"Not I. But if the Heretic chooses to manifest, it might result in frightening things."

"Oh!" Molly replied hoping for just that to happen, and hopefully in front of Miss Throckmorton so the governess would quit.

Cook, having overheard the last statement, was eyeing the priest warily.

"This is Vaal. Can you make him some breakfast, too?" Molly pleaded.

"Coffee or tea at least?" the priest requested with a courteous bow, which surprised Molly into letting her mouth drop open. High ranking men were not supposed to treat servants like that. Were they?  She swore that was part of Miss Throckmorton's teachings on society and manners. Granted, though, she never paid the lessons much mind.

Cook dropped a nervous curtesy in return.  "The priest is your father's honored guest. He may have what he likes, when he likes it."

"Oh good.  Come on," Molly added to Vaal and took his hand, leading him over to take a seat at the central worktable, which was already covered in dishes and pans which would be used to serve the formal breakfast.

Once the two of them had scones and Molly hot-chocolate and Vaal tea, Molly asked, "Do you wear a sword?"

"Yes."

"Do you use it?"

"Only to silence nosy children."

"I'm not a child!" Molly retorted indignantly. "I'm almost 12."

"Ah, a Wise Woman then."

"Now you're laughing at me," Molly muttered.

His lips quirked upward. "Perhaps a little.  Yes, I wear a sword. We in the Black go into dangerous situations sometimes. We'd best learn to protect ourselves."

"Doesn't the Bastard.."  her voice trailed away and she looked near to panic.

"The Bastard could choose to protect us, but he prefers that we protect ourselves," Vaal answered serenely.

"I'm sorry. It's that.. Well, that's what most people call the Heretic. I don't know why."

Cook, whose ears were red, began to open her mouth, but at a look from the priest she thought better of it.

"We call him that too, Lady Molly.  He likes it.  It establishes his independence, as he is wont to say. After all, he's the god of outcasts, thieves, bastards and the lost."

Molly's mouth dropped open again. She wondered which of those Vaal was. What she asked was, "He doesn't mind? People calling him a Bastard, I mean."

"No, he doesn't mind."

"It's a horrible word, though," Molly pointed out.

"Only if you allow others to define it.  Better to embrace such things as then they're drained of their potency and of their ability to hurt you."

"Oh. Why did you choose to serve The Heretic?" Molly asked, sipping her tea, almost afraid that the question would make Vaal angry.

Instead the priest laughed. A mixture of emotions expressed in that simple sound, not all of them easy to understand.  "The Heretic chooses his priests, his priests do not choose him."

"He ... came to you? In a dream? Because you were ...."  she wanted to ask if he were pure, or pious, but neither seemed to fit.

"He came to me. In the flesh. I might tell you about it one day when you are older."

"Oh," Molly breathed. She thought over their conversation whilst she chewed on a scone.  After she swallowed she asked, "Why did you come to King's Cross?"

"Ah," Vaal answered and gave it some thought. "Firstly, because the Bastard told me to come here. Beyond that, I can only guess as to why I'm here."

"What do you guess?" Molly asked.

"Gods do not often share with us lowly servants their plans or fears. Usually orders are curt, if clear. What I do know is that He sees the future, or at least guesses it.  Or perhaps He shapes it Himself, or tries to. What I do suspect, based on all of that, is that generally he sends me places where trouble is due to begin."

"The coming war you spoke of last night?" Molly asked.

Vaal shrugged, his face thoughtful, sad, hard. "Possibly. But I do not think war is the only reason I'm here."

Molly opened her mouth to ask him what other reasons he suspected, but a look on his face made her reconsider.

 

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