He waited for his heart to descend from his throat to his chest, for his frantic breathing to slow. It didn’t matter how often Cal came to him this way, he was never prepared. If once he could wake reassured by his brother’s presence rather than frightened ... but fear was his oldest friend. For fourteen suns he remembered little else.
He listened for sounds of wakefulness in the crowded boys’ dormitory. All he heard was a chorus of heavy breathing and soft snores. Thank Auraya hard work and
late services make for deep sleep. Slowly, he lifted the threadbare blanket and padded barefoot across the cold stone floor to the alcove where Cal waited for him.
The dormitory, so full of bodies, was somehow a hollow place. The high, small windows stole the light and life from the room. There never seemed to be enough air, but the chill multiplied like vermin in the walls. It was a dungeon, a place for the unwanted, where boys waited to become monks, or to be thrown out into the street. At fourteen, he’d waited longer than most.
Without preamble, Cal thrust the hardened leather case, broader than Eoghan’s chest and nearly as thick, into his arms. Eoghan’s foot slapped against the floor as he steadied himself and he waited, breathless, for some sign that other sleepers had woken.
Within the case he held was the Kas’Khoudum, the book of light: the reason Cal had fallen, but also why he’d been promised he’d soon rise above all others.
A respected scholar and priest, Cal was to take the position of chief archivist in the great library. It wasn’t a prestigious post. He’d have no land, no parishioners to tithe, and little possibility of becoming a member of any prelate’s staff, but he loved the old
books. Then his duties led him to the Kas’Khoudum and the terrible truths hidden
in its pages.
Because of this book, Cal discovered that everything the Faithful espoused was a lie. The Kas’Khoudum contained no commandments, no catalogue of sin, and certainly no list of penance or punishment. He hadn’t read yet of damnation or the tortures of the blessless soul after death. There was no instruction regarding the tithing of the people,
no hierarchy, and not even a mention of tonsure. Eoghan’s scalp prickled at the thought of it, the plucking. The monastery’s barber said it bred dedication and the stoicism to bear up under the burden of a monk’s duty. The goddess wanted them to suffer in this life, he said, so her consolation would be so much more rewarding in the next. Eoghan thought the practice unnecessarily cruel.
This book, with the shapes of dragons burned and burnished onto case and cover, encouraged Cal to enlighten his brethren, but they would hear none of it and accused him of heresy. Cal fled and became a fugitive.
Because of this book, Cal lived in hiding, preaching in the alleys, in barns, wherever the people would come to hear him, and snuck into the monastery dormitory in the middle of the night to teach Eoghan about the Kas’Khoudum and the truth of the
The book was the reason Auraya finally spoke to Cal and told him that he’d become the Kas’Hadden, the hammer of light, and her representative on Tellurin. Cal was going to change the world and Eoghan only felt proud, privileged, and intensely grateful that his brother hadn’t forgotten about him altogether.
Cal had visited him like this for moons, teaching him the language the book was written in, but tonight Cal didn’t lead him to one of the store rooms and ask Eoghan to read from the Kas’Khoudum. Something cold and hard settled in the boy’s stomach. He swallowed, his mouth dry and gummy.“ What?” Eoghan said, the word only
Cal grabbed his shoulders and spoke into his ear, saying the words slowly, clearly, and as loudly as he dared: “Hide it. It’s your responsibility now. Copy it. Bring faith back to the Faithful.”
Eoghan shook his head and Cal’s fingers dug into his flesh painfully. Giving him the book meant Cal expected something terrible to happen. Eoghan heard the confirmation of his suspicions in Cal’s voice, but how could this be? Auraya chose Cal for her champion. What would happen that the goddess couldn’t protect him from?
“They’re coming for me,” Cal said.
“Who?” It emerged a squeaky ‘oo.’
“Archbishop Manse and the Grand Inquisitor.”
Cal left Eoghan shivering from more than his bare feet on the cold stone, holding a book that might be the only thing he’d have to remember his brother by.
The thought galvanized him. Eoghan hastened to don cassock and cloak and scurried through the rain to the south wall, headed for the beggars’ graveyard outside.
Hunched over the book, he passed uncontested through the postern gate. Monks and the boys of the monastery came and went at all times of the day and night. Burial and vigil were nigh on continual. Though he felt certain they must have heard his heart pounding against his bones, the guards, huddled beneath their own cloaks, nodded him
through. On the other side, his bare feet squished in the mud, slipped until they scraped against buried stones, were cut on the sharp ones.
Eoghan buried the book along with its name, the language it was written in, and every other memory he had of it. He commended it to its new guardian and tried to forget. The girl had been interred that day and would speak of his visit to no one. Even using the spade, he was mud to the elbows, dirt to the knees. He had to strip off the cloak and cassock and let the rain cleanse him before he dressed again and returned through the gate.
Back on his pallet, holding his jaw closed to keep his teeth from chattering, Eoghan’s fear devoured him.
A few tense and sleepless days later, the news reached the monastery: a heretic had been captured and would be interrogated by Grand Inquisitor de Naude himself. Following the inquisition, there would be a public execution, the likes of which Aurayene hadn’t seen in many a sun. Though the name of the alleged heretic was made public, everyone in the monastery acted like they didn’t know Callum MacDubghall.
Only Eoghan harbored any doubt about Cal’s guilt. Wasn’t the point of an inquisition to ascertain the nature and degree of the sin? There seemed to be no investigation here, no considered judgment, just foregone conclusions.
Eoghan abandoned the scriptorium, buried himself in unauthorized research, and poured over the heretical annals. Had anyone accused of heresy ever been found innocent? So rarely that it gave Eoghan little hope. Many had been released for recanting their heretical beliefs, but Cal would never deny Auraya.
Brother monks and priestly fathers all pretended ignorance that it was one of their own they would soon put to death. Everyone else assumed the heretic guilty, Alphonse De Naude’s investigation a formality only, and the execution, the logical conclusion of a blessless life.
Eoghan barely spared a thought for the book or where he’d hidden it. If someone should seek the knowledge in his mind, they’d find only his fear for Cal and his
utter lack of concern for himself. He pushed these thoughts to the fore.
He was a mere postulant and that by grace, not old enough to do anything on his own, a weak, book-fed boy, skin and bones. Illumination, cleaning, and gardening comprised the sum of his knowledge. He’d no friends, no resources, and not the least clue what he
should do. His requests to visit his brother were repeatedly denied. His attempts to leave the monastery without permission, thwarted.
Knowing he’d no means to help Cal, Eoghan continued his search, if not for a solution, then simply for hope. He endured the beatings stoically and in every spare moment he prayed as he never had before. Both sincere and angry, Eoghan alternately begged the
goddess to save Cal and berated her for failing to do anything at all.
In the end, he decided Cal was either deceived or mad. Auraya could not possibly exist. How could she let her future champion be tortured and killed?
Eoghan visited the Lady Chapel rather than the church proper for his particular devotions. The chapel was built along withthe original monastery when Aurayene was young and the monastery not even a quarter of its current size. The abbot maintained it as a matter of nostalgia and used it only for special occasions or visitors. Because of that, it remained vacant and though he made no secret of his movements, no one looked for Eoghan there. Frère Pier was careful to add to his punishments for these known but unwitnessed derelictions of his duties.
He’d always liked the Lady Chapel better than the church. More intimate than the larger building, Eoghan felt what he understood as the spirit of Auraya breathing more easily within its uncluttered confines. The simple, unadorned space suited him.
Suns of censers had impregnated the stone with the scents of cedar and wormwood. Only the altar and font were marble. The rest was quarried granite, polished by suns of use. The one window above the altar, recently glazed with clear glass, framed the waning moon, visible through a haze of cloud. Eoghan was missing compline, but he didn’t care.
“They say you hear the hopes and dreams of every Tellurin. Why then can you not hear mine? What power has stopped your ears, blinded you? Your chosen one is perilously close to death and yet you do nothing! What kind of goddess are you? What kind of Archbishop plots the downfall of a lowly priest? What kind of useless brother am I?
What kind of faith falters at the first test? I should believe, but I despair. There are precious few grains of sand remaining in the hourglass. When they run out, Cal dies and then we are both doomed. You will have no champion, and I will have no brother. My life will not be worth even one grain of sand then. Faith or no, I have little choice. If even one second remains, you may yet act to save him. I hope that you do, and that it will be enough to redeem us all.”
Then, as he had seen the priests do, Eoghan lay face-down on the cold floor in front of the altar and waited for his miracle.
If you are a publisher or agent, you can find out more about Melanie's breakout novel, Initiate of Stone, on Authorsalon.com. If you want to follow Melanie's writing career, visit Writerly Goodness.