Merry Christmas my Beloved Readers! 2/3
I didn’t stop walking until I reached the forest. By then the sun had set and the navy of night was just slurping up the last of gray evening. The trees seemed just as welcoming as they had been when I had first woken up here, though I doubted I could find that same patch of flawless, baby-soft grass. They weren’t green anymore either, but a flecked portrait of the brown, yellow, and red of autumn. Even so, I stepped into the shade and looked anyways.
I should have gone to the temple, I thought too late. Because if I ever needed counsel from god, now would be the time.
I stopped at the first little clearing I found and knelt in the grass. I let my pink skirts pool around me, finally becoming aware of the fact that I was shivering. It wasn’t summer anymore. I had done something stupid.
But I couldn’t change that now. So, instead, I stuffed my hands into my armpits and tucked my face against my knees.
“Brother Nehcor,” I murmured against them. “I’m sorry, but your wife’s idea is ruining everything.”
Dry leaves whispered and clattered in the breeze. The undergrowth protected me from most of the wind, but not all.
“I didn’t need to be pretty. I wasn’t looking for a husband. I just…I just wanted to be home, somewhere precious, with my babies again. That’s all I wanted.”
My eyes stung with tears too strong for them, which bubbled out like a stream. My dress grew wet.
“I just wanted to hold my baby. I just…I just wanted to hold him and make him happy and cherished and loved.”
Unbidden, the image of my firstborn, still and gray within his blankets, rose up.
I clenched myself in tightly, hoping to keep all the parts of me wanting to tear apart and fly off in every direction all together. But since there was no one around, I had no reason to hold in the keening wail from leaving my mouth.
I was pathetic, running away like this. I was probably going to freeze to death out here. Forget what Gus might have been feeling when I ran off on him and told him not to follow, and when I screamed at him like that, what would happen to him if I died? No matter what he wanted me to be, to him I was all he had. He didn’t trust Hal and Milly. Why did I run off like that? Why didn’t I just tell him to shut his little crush up and move on? Why didn’t I just insist I didn’t like him like that and never would?
And as I thought that, I suddenly remembered the details of the man in my dream. He had been tall, strong, with silver hair and red eyes.
I had woken up to Gus next to me. Had Gus given me that dream with his magic? Could he do that? Or had I dreamed it on my own? And did it even matter? It was the most beautiful dream I could have imagined.
I don’t know how long I cried there, bunched up into a ball and getting colder and colder, but eventually my tears ran dry and my skirts dotted with snot from where I’d used it to blow my nose. My eyes, throat, and stomach hurt from crying so hard.
“I should head back,” I told my legs. “Or at least I should try to.”
I was just getting to my feet when the cracking of twigs and dry bush leaves made me jump around.
Looking a bit more ragged for wear, with his blond hair hidden beneath a thick hat, was Priest Miurian. Though I almost didn’t recognize him in his common man’s clothes. The white priest robes really made him.
He looked just as surprised to see me as I was to see him.
“Miss Lillian? What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same.”
He looked hesitant as he approached me. “I think I’m here for you. You’re not dressed for being out here, and your eyes—what happened?”
Without asking, he took off his quilted jerkin and cloth coat and threw it over my shoulders. I welcomed the warmth of his body that came with it.
“I…may have overreacted.”
“Even so, we need to get you inside. You can tell me about it on the way, if you wish.”
“Are you out here because god told you to be?”
“It…was a very peculiar experience, but I suppose so. You, miss, are certainly very precious to Nehcor.”
Just outside the tree line, a brown, saddled horse waited. Its dark eyes reflected the starlight as I drew near, and it whuffled softly at our approach.
“Wow, you even brought the cavalry.”
“Mist is a gentle horse whose been with me since I was a boy. She’s getting on in years, but she should still be strong enough to carry the both of us. Her sire was a war horse.”
As I could guess, as she towered over me. I hadn’t been around too many horses, but even I knew it wasn’t any size to sneeze at when the top of your head didn’t even level with the lowest point of her back.
Miurian helped me onto the saddle first. It was quite the climb, and once seated I felt like I rode a building instead of a horse.
The feel of him settling in behind me, with his warmth pressed close to me, made me stiffen. Thankfully, he made nothing of it as he flicked the reigns and brought Mist around with a few clicks of his tongue.
I huddled deeper into the coat. It smelled like nutmeg.
“I was getting ready for bed and couldn’t shake off this unsettling feeling,” he told me above the steady plodding of Mist’s huge hooves. “Usually when I receive a prompting from Nehcor it comes like a whisper, very quiet, but like a pierce to the heart. Even so, it’s usually peaceful, but this was almost urgent, like I’d left a fire going in a part of the temple where no one was around. No sooner had I knelt to pray about it when I heard that I should saddle up my horse that very second and head out the west gate. Once I got out I just let Mist run and she led me to the forest. She’s so big, though, I had to leave her outside the trees to go any further, and that’s how I found you.”
It was comforting to know that, although indirectly, Nehcor had answered my prayer. It was also embarrassing, though. Gus had every right to scold me all the time. I really was stupid about taking care of myself. He might as well be the parent—a thought I hated.
He urged Mist up into a gentle trot. It amazed me how such a huge creature could have such a smooth stride.
“What an amazing horse,” I couldn’t help but say.
“I’m pleased to hear it. I like her a lot. I hope it’s not too strange to say she’s my best friend, though I don’t know if that says much.”
“How come? Do you not get along with the other priests?”
“Well, yes and no.” He hesitated, but continued. “I…don’t know if you’re aware of this, but god’s church isn’t doing as well as it use to, or at least as well as it should. That sounds quite bad coming from a priest. I swear I’m not trying to be negative, but…well…”
“It’s okay, Miur. I trust you. Just say what’s on your mind.”
“…What did you call me?”
“Miur? I’m sorry, it slipped out without me thinking.”
“No, call me what you wish. I was just surprised.” But he only gave it a moment. “There are priests who are jealous of me. Of how well and how many promptings I receive and the effectiveness of my blessings. The use of god’s priesthood shouldn’t be a source of pride. We are but tools, it is god who is doing the work. But some seem to have forgotten that. Some, I suspect, have lost the ability to use that power completely and desperately try to hide it.”
“I take it there’s a lot of prestige to be had as a priest of god.”
“I suppose. It’s not like we’re paid. We all have a day job, but since the king’s gotten involved that hasn’t been the case. To get into the good graces of the people and more religious nobility he has offered to pay for the living expenses of those higher up in the church’s authority and has also given gifts to those who favor him in their blessings. It’s gotten to the point that I suspect he’s bribed a few to say what he wants rather than god’s word.”
“Yeah. Makes sense. Is the worship of Nehcor the state religion?”
“Yeah. Like what the majority of the people worship.”
“Yes. Lisuania is the birth place of the Church of Nehcor.”
“What about the priests who aren’t jealous of you?”
“They’re…well, there is at least thirty years between me and them. We’re friendly enough, but there’s a sort of professional distance between us. I’d say the one I was closest with is Dorius, the healer. She’s a fun sort, for sure. I can say we’re friends.”
“I like her. I want to be friends too.”
“If you send me any letters to her, I’ll forward them to her.”
“I’d like that a lot. I don’t have many close friends either.”
“I find that surprising.”
I shrugged, leaving it at that.
We rode in quiet for a bit. I didn’t feel like telling Miurian why I had ran out of the city and pass all the farmland to sob in the forest, and he didn’t ask. I did make sure to thank him several times, though. I’d never felt more grateful for Miurian’s faithfulness to Nehcor as I did then.
You’ve got a good one here, I thought towards my brother.