The priest smiled in relief and stepped aside for us as we got out of the pew. He gestured to one of the gold doors far off to the side and I followed him. With how shiny the door was, I figured I was suppose to assume there’d be equal treasures on the otherside, so I decided to be contrary in my tired state and expect white bricks and a naked stone floor.
But, of course, there had to be gold gilded mirrors facing each other from opposing walls and a freaking crystal chandelier from the ceiling. The walls in here glittered like they did outside too. At the center was a cushioned stump of sorts for someone to sit on, maybe an alter? If alters were meant to be sat on. There were chairs around the room too.
The priest gestured to the fuzzy stump and I obediently sat on it. I caught sight of an infinity of me’s in the reflection of the two mirrors, going on forever till they curved out of sight.
Curious, how that was. That because it went on forever it started to curve.
“Have you ever had a blessing before?” asked the priest.
“Well, I’ll need your name and I’ll be putting my hands on your shoulders. I’m sorry for how random this is, I just…well, it would be hard to explain the sensation. I promise I have no ulterior motive for this.”
“I believe you,” I said. “I’ll just take it as one of your priestly duties, randomly tossing out blessings.” Like T-shirts at a pep rally.
“Blessings are a rare thing, Lilly,” said Gus, who had been keeping his eyes to the floor, though it didn’t hide his curious grin. “They’re usually given to those who have received callings of the priesthood or when those with the authority are moved to give said blessings.”
So he got the feeling Nehcor was telling him to give me a blessing, which he was. Cool. I wanted my present now so I could go to sleep.
The priest cleared his throat. “May I have your name, sister?”
“Is that your full name?”
I hesitated. For some reason, I thought of my name when I’d been married, and that irritated me. Of course I was going to give my REAL name.
“Lillian Maybeth Strobelt.” My maiden name.
If he thought my name weird, he didn’t say anything. Only set his warm hands upon my shoulders and murmured for me to close my eyes and bow my head.
“Lillian Maybeth Strobelt, by the name of Nehcor, god and king above, I give you this blessing. May you be guided in wisdom in your life and the necessary tools for your goals be found. Also…” he hesitated. “I bless you that your magical capacity may be increased.” This seemed to confuse the priest for a moment, for I could hear the smacking of his mouth opening and closing several times before he ended with, “I seal this blessing upon you and make an end.”
And then his hands were gone.
What? Not an ‘amen’ or a ‘halleluiah’? Or a promise for a lifetime supply of chocolate without getting fat?
Gal, Nehcor was cheap.
“Thank you,” I said, wondering if I could stand up or not.
“Just doing my job. But, um, before you leave, I have something else I feel that I should give you. If you could just wait here.”
The door closed behind him. It wasn’t gold on this side, but a polished pale wood.
“Lucky you, you got a blessing even with a child of the devil by your side,” said Gus with a wry snicker.
“Shut up, you’re not the child of the devil. I don’t even know if the devil exists in this world.”
‘Oh, he does. It’s necessary for opposition to exist in all things.’ Nehcor’s voice was quieter than ever. Faulty reception.
I yawned so wide I felt my jaw pop.
Yeah, but you said parenthood was part of godhood. Doesn’t that mean the devil can’t be a parent.
‘Goo, my sister’s so smart!’
Stop talking to me, you’re going to make me pass out.
And to prove my point exactly, Gus then asks, looking concerned, “Are you okay?”
“Just really tired. The walk here took a lot more out of me than I thought.”
Gus frowned deep enough that I almost got to see the knobs on each end of his mouth again. “I’m the one who should be tired in that case. Maybe you’re coming down with something. We’re taking a carriage home.”
“Who made you boss, short stack? At least say ‘we should take a carriage home.’”
“Why? When it’s obvious we don’t have an option to not to. You look like you’re about to pass out.”
That’s because I was. “Oh look who’s back.”
The door opened and our freckly blond priest stepped in, smiling shyly and holding a beautiful, leather-bound book in his hands.
“Here,” he held it out. “A set of the holy scriptures. Best I walk out with you so no one thinks you stole it.”
Which wasn’t too much of a stretch. Books in this age and time were expensive, even with magic. Wood wasn’t an element, after all, and the finesse it took to control water spells to put ink on a page in the shape of words was more effort than just using a quill. That’s why I had said my pretty book was a family heirloom.
And this one looked pretty thick.
“Um…are you sure I can just…take that?” I asked. “I couldn’t even begin to pay the Church back for that.” Well, I could, but it would take an eternity and a half. Freaking gap between the classes.
“If you’re worried about that, you can pay back the church in your time and talents. While I was blessing you, I sensed divine magic from you. Could I call on you in the future for healing?”
I blanched. Damn it, Nehcor, I thought that was supposed to be a secret! Images of being locked up and used as a human miracle pill or dressed up as some sort of saintess to parade around ran through my head.
‘Calm down, he’s a good kid. I picked him for a reason.’
Even as I heard that, the priest in front of me raised his hands in panic.
“I swear I won’t tell anyone, I know how that knowledge can inconvenience you. It’s just…healing is still a god given gift. If the time comes up that I feel god wants someone healed, I’d like to know I have someone to call upon.”
Still, I scowled.
“You keep my identity under lock and key under pain of death, yeah?”
“Of course. I may not know you well, but I can tell you’re one who likes a peaceful life.”
I relaxed a bit. “You’re pretty perceptive then, kid.”
He flushed. “Please, I’m twenty-seven.”
Yep. Called it. “I figured. Sorry, I’m with this one all the time so I’m use to calling every male under the age of thirty kid.”
Gus scowled at that, but I ignored him.
The priest gave one of his sheepish smiles, the only kind I’d seen from him. Once I took the book from him, his hands started wringing again. It made me wonder just how many shy men I was going to deal with in this world. It might be nice to meet someone with the confidence of the terminator, just to shake it up.
‘Careful what you wish for.’
My head suddenly drooped.
The priest’s hands caught my shoulders. The floor tipped from where I saw it from my hanging head.
“Sorry,” I said. “Just got dizzy.” So tired.
“Carriage,” said Gus. “Please. I need to get her home.”
“Of course,” said the priest. “Here, take the book, I’ll carry her.”
“I can walk—“ but I was already being lifted princess style. The words ended in an undignified little squawk.
The blue eyes above the sheepish smile twinkled a bit. “You’re lighter than you look, sister, don’t worry.”
I could only gawk like a fish. Did priests work out?
Whether he worked out or not, his arms were beginning to quiver by the time we made it across the vast temple hall and to the front doors. I had been too tired to fight back or pay attention to all the looks we must have been getting from the rest of the parishioners. Who gets carried out by a priest? A car crash of misfortune, that’s who.
The priest who held me thanked whoever opened the door for us.
“Your arms are going to hurt in the morning,” I said faintly. I could smell the gardens, something I’d missed out because I’d been too blown away by the appearance of the temple. I didn’t realize how much I missed the smell of greenery until then. It wasn’t like the part of the city I lived in tried to cultivate trees or parks.
“Probably a sign I should work out more,” he said as he lowered me to the grass with a grunt. “Still, rest easy, sister Lillian. I won’t break. I’ll call a carriage now.”
As I watched him walk away from where I sat on the grass, more of a melted pile of being than actual sitting, Gus folded his arms with another frown.
“This better not be number three.”
“Please, we’ve just met. Nice skin can’t make me that popular.” The ground had attained an extra gravity skill and was using it to try and pull me down onto my face. Stupid Nehcor, never telling me anything useful, like that talking to him would turn me into putty. Didn’t he know I still had work today? And an extra magic capacity? How was that a present? It wasn’t like I could use my magic as much as I wanted to anyways while keeping it hidden.
In my struggle against the ground, I almost missed Gus’s look of disbelief.
“Is that really all you think it is? Your skin?”
I sighed. I didn’t have the energy for this weird conversation. It was just another opening to a lecture of how I need to not be so friendly to guys, as they saw it as some form of flirtation or other. Really, it should be Hal to give me these brow beatings, not Gus. But he was probably just worried that some guy would come take me away from being his mom. Step parents were awful. And not from behind his mom, his sister, or however he saw me.
The priest trotted back some minutes later. I held up my hands even as he reached for me.
“I can walk,” I insisted.
“Then I’ll help you to your feet, at least.”
And I was managing to walk just fine, bar with legs like lead, before Nehcor decided to leave me with one last message.
‘This mission is to help you just as much as Damascus, you know.’
“I got you, sister.”
I was half out by the time I was tucked into the carriage.
“Please be well. Young man, if she doesn’t get better, contact me—just send a letter to the temple for Priest Muirian. I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’m being serious, young man. Don’t brush this off.”
“Just close the door already!”
A snap of the carriage door. I was so tired I couldn’t even appreciate being in a carriage for the first time. It smelled like leather and people. But everything smelled of people’s body odor nowadays. Deodorant was a beautiful thing that these folk didn’t have.
“Stop being a jerk,” I mumbled.
“Just lay down and go to sleep.”
His hand grabbed the side of my head, roughly pulling it down into his small lap.
“Wait, what kind of man do you want to be?”
“Grow up. What you want. Answer.”
“Good.” That was easy enough to achieve. I’d be done here in a jiffy.
And I was out.