And with this, this should FINALLY be the end of the Morland arc. Which got dragged out way longer than I meant it to. Oh well. Also, I’m too tired to proofread tonight, so I hope it still makes sense.
“Hey, Bishop!” I raised my hand and my voice to a volume that seemed likely to be enough to catch the attention of the familiar set of robes under waves of long blond hair.
Sure enough, Alberius – who had bent over to retrieve something from the stone floor in front of him – straightened back up and then urned to see who was calling. “Joey…wasn’t it?” he asked with a nod and a quiet tone.
I nodded and went towards him, side-stepping around two other priests who were sweeping up a pile of ash. It had been mid-morning when I had woken again after falling asleep on the church rooftop. In the early morning hours, my muse had somehow managed to move me to a nearby inn that still had a room to spare. I wasn’t quite sure how it had been accomplished, but when Ethere – who at some point had decided to change back – suggested leaving through the window in the room rather than the front door, I figured that was as good an answer as any.
At least the room was still in one piece, I had told myself as I climbed out, careful not to knock the shutters into one another. Once back on the main street, I had lingered for a moment before deciding to revisit my haunts of the night before.
I had come to the church to find the great wooden doors open wide to let the air through and the inner sanctuary a busy mixture of priests and townspeople alike.
“What happened here?” I asked, trying to keep my tone one of casual curiosity.
Alberius gestured widely. “You can see for yourself. A fire, though thankfully a small one.”
“Yeah.” The smell of smoke was still thick on the air. I hadn’t noticed it as strongly the night before, but now, after coming in from the town streets where the morning breeze carried in the salt scent off the ocean, the acrid odor of burnt wood and cloth was much more stark. “Was anything…err…valuable lost?”
“The benches were hand-carved,” Alberius said. I winced, then covered that expression with a cough into the edge of my sleeve. The bishop, though, looked aside and didn’t seem to notice as he surveyed the progress of the repairs around the room. “The tapestries were a gift from the Archbishop’s family. Though how one of them came to be here in the fire at the center of the room when nothing else near the wall was touched…”
“Very strange,” I said a little too loudly. I looked over at met Ethere’s eye.
My muse only shrugged, then spoke up himself, sounding surprisingly calm. “Do they know how it started?”
Not that… I tried to widen my eyes to get the message across to my muse, but if Ethere was tuned into my thoughts at that moment, he didn’t show it.
“The fire was already nearly out by the time that I arrived.” Alberius hesitated, but then continued before I could exhale. “But…well, it’s the strangest thing.”
“Matthias, Roald, and I were the first to arrive once we smelled smoke. But when we got here, we found that two of our guards were already here…and with the strangest story to tell.”
I suddenly had a very bad feeling about this.
“They were on a certain…difficult assignment,” Alberius said with a sideways glance at me, “when they were overcome by a wave of darkness.”
“Enough to take two well-trained guards by surprise. Apparently they hadn’t seen anything quite like it.”
“And this…err…it…still caught them?” I asked a little nervously.
“Apparently one of them had his staff…appropriated…just before it happened,” Alberius said slowly.
I winced again and didn’t really try to hide my expression this time.
Alberius continued. “According to them, even as they were caught up in the dark, they were falling out of it and into the church where some rather…strange things were being said.”
“Yes. Suggestions that this darkness had been controlled by someone’s mind, that the world might be in danger of ending, and apparently a concern that I might kill someone.”
“Well, err…you know guards. They always exaggerate everything.”
Alberius raised an eyebrow. “Yes, indeed. I did wonder that when they also mentioned seeing a dragon.”
“More than unusual when there hasn’t been a dragon in these parts in generations.”
“What?” I blinked. “But—” I was cut off before I could ask more.
“Bishop Velmond? I…” the speaker who had interrupted me stopped short as both Alberius and I looked up.
“You!” I pointed with my voice far too loud, forgetting for a moment where I was.
“Aah!” The man, dressed in soot-stained and torn robes and looking like he hadn’t slept in a week, jumped back and immediately had his staff raised in a defensive position. His companion, hearing him shout, rushed over as well but froze when he saw me. I recognized the both of them all too well.
Slowly, I turned my gaze over at Alberius, who didn’t look at all pleased with any of us. “You knew? All along, that it was m—”
“Hush!” Alberius grabbed my arm so tightly that his grip caught me off guard and cut me off mid-sentence. The bishop glanced over his shoulder and then, still with fingers wrapped firmly around my arm just below the elbow, he guided me off towards the hallway to the side of the main sanctuary. The two guards hesitated but then chose to trail cautiously behind us. When we stopped, Alberius kept an eye on a passing priest until well after he had gone by.
Once the bishop relaxed his grip on my arm, I dared to speak again. “Why?” I asked more quietly. “You could have had me arrested the moment I walked in here.”
“And what would that have done?” Alberius asked.
“It would have…uh…gotten me arrested.”
“On what charge?”
I scowled. “Do you want a full confession?”
Alberius sighed. “There were other things overheard last night as well.”
“Huh?” For a moment, I wasn’t sure what he meant. But then I realized that the two guards with us had turned their wary eyes onto Ethere for a moment, and I remembered a conversation the last night that I hadn’t been able to overhear. I turned my eyes onto Ethere as well, but my muse’s expression stayed carefully neutral as he kept his attention on Alberius.
“You’re going to be continuing on north of here, aren’t you?”
The change in subject took me by surprise. “I…” I hadn’t thought about it. But the moment he had said it, I knew it was right. “Yeah, but…” I stopped and looked at the guards, still standing cautiously off to the side, “Why? Did you want me to bring them along too?” I smirked a little at the closer one when I saw him pale and raise his staff again.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Alberius said.
“You were the one who had them trail me in the first place, weren’t you?”
“Why?” I asked.
“A compromise,” he said. “There were priests who would have preferred not to let you leave the church at all. Although I do believe you showed just how effective that would be.” Alberius paused, but when he saw the look that I wore, he explained more. “The fact that a human is here at all. In Morland. In the church of Fyria. It means things are soon to change.”
“What if I’m not the human that you think I am?”
“No human comes to this world without a reason for it.” Alberius lowered his voice. “But if it’s up to me, I’d rather you find your purpose outside these walls.”
That said, Alberius pointed me down the side hallway to the open door at the end. The priest next to him looked increasingly relieved the farther away I got. And all too quickly, I was once again out on the city streets where I turned a slow circle in order to look around me. “Let’s see…north is…that way?”
Ethere looked and nodded. “I think so.”
“It’s too bad this isn’t much help,” I pulled out the crumpled map that had lasted me all this while and looked at it again. As I did, something else occurred to me. “Wait a minute…Alberius is the one who seemed to think I’d be going north. If he thinks that, maybe he already knows what’s up there.”
I spun on my toes, ready to march back to the church and ask. Ethere even started to walk back, but bumped into me instead and stopped. “What is it?” he asked.
I looked up at the towering stone spires. It was still close enough to return to. Maybe the answer would be there. Maybe it wouldn’t. I turned away from the church, folded up the map, and stuffed it back into my pocket once again. “And maybe I’ll just wait and find out for myself.” I nudged my muse and started walking instead in the direction that we both assumed was north. “Let’s go.”
~ ~ ~
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