Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 9)

Halthor started to look behind him at the noise of activity in the yard before the temple. The priest at his side tugged on his left wrist and Halthor returned his attention to following the man. The hallway they moved through was dimly lit by narrow windows at the top of the leeward wall of the building. Little light came in through them between the eves covering them and the storm. Despite that dim light, though, Halthor saw richly detailed tapestries hanging on the outer wall. Most were pictorial stories of the history of Ranyth. The stylized images of the First Kings and their children grew progressively more complex and lifelike as they passed through the histories up to the cloth that spoke of the founder of the present dynasty. This cloth hung beside the door into the priest's living quarters.

As they stood at the door and Halthor waited for the priest to do what ever they were there to do, he looked at the image. At the top of the tapestry, Halthor saw a lily. Unlike any lily he had ever seen, this was fashioned in what appeared to be metallic thread. He noticed that the lily was repeated down the tapestry as a central divider with each iteration being more stylized. The final version matched what he saw upon his master's hammer and the axe given to him at Wye. The door to the priest's living quarters opened and a warm rush of air caressed the traveler. The priest tapped him on the arm.

Halthor looked over. The priest's brother in service looked up from the boot he was mending. The older man set aside his awl and brushed his hands on his apron. As he rose, Halthor realized that the old priest was easily six to eight inches taller than himself, though Halthor stood at six feet even. The tall priest had a wiry strength to him that made Halthor question if he had a life of hard labor before he was called to the Storm Lord's service. "Brother Mavora," the priest said to his companion, "Why have you brought this man here?" Mavora made a flicking gesture in the air about his head and then pointed to Halthor. The man with the leather apron squinted at Halthor. "I do not see any sign of ..." he began when an errant ray of light cut through the storm's gloom and defied the building's construction to fall on Halthor.

The priest looked harder at Halthor, his expression somewhere between suspicion and disbelief. "I did not think this day would come," the man with the stone grey hair muttered, "He bears the sign of our Lord's hand but he is not marked for him. My grand-da said that the Traveler would come at the beginning of the dark days. I thought it was age addling his wits." The old priest shook his head with a look of disappointment. "Come," the tall man said, motioning towards a bench beside the fireplace, "Ewen will be here soon with our evening's fare. Perhaps your nephew, Mavora, will bring us a fish as well. The crossing should have enough open water for him to get something with that pole and raft of his." Halthor walked over to the bench that Mavora was hastily moving to where Halthor's feet could be closer to the snapping fire.

As the younger, voiceless priest straightened there was a noise in the hallway back to the entryway of the temple. Mavora started to move towards the door when the older man motioned for him to remain. The grey haired man moved with surprising grace through the doorway and down the passage. Mavora ran a hand through his curly brown hair. He looked about the chamber with a small look of dismay. His eyes alighted upon a jug sitting on a shelf against the coldest wall of the room. As the mute man found cups and set to the task of pouring out a drink for himself and his companions, the sounds of an argument came down the hallway. Halthor moved to rise when Mavora caught his eye and shook his head.

As suddenly as the argument arose, it finished. The noise of a door slamming came shortly before the elder priest returned. He walked back into the living quarters with a look of mild disgust. The tall man shook his head. "That lot will be nothing but trouble, I'm sure of it," he said as he shut the door. He looked over at Halthor. "You're in a great deal of trouble, son," he said. Halthor sighed and looked down into the depths of the cup that Mavora handed him. The elder priest returned to where he was mending his boot. He took his cup of beer from his fellow priest and gave him a nod of thanks.

His dark eyes looked Halthor over from head to toe. The iridescent nimbus that had appeared so briefly when the stray ray of light had hit him had vanished with the movement of the clouds. Now, Halthor looked simply to be a tired traveler who labored under some secret burden and sorrow. "I can not hide you here," the old man said, "The dark priests will move this to an open fight if I do. I can not say that Hyle will survive that. I have a duty to keep this village in the light. The dark priests' dogs have been causing trouble about the way. Wynnwode has fallen into their clutches. I am sure Lord Cuthbert has as well despite the oaths of his father."

Halthor's expression fell into grim resignation. A knock sounded at the door. Halthor reached for the small axe that hung at his hip, deciding that if the men serving the Banished God had come to fight he would give them a mighty one. Mavora walked over and opened the door slightly. Halthor heard to voice of the ferryman beyond it greeting the priest. When Ewen walked into the room, Halthor realized that Mavora truly did look to be a much older man then Halthor realized earlier. Ewen looked at Halthor and gave him a lopsided smile. "Much better here than the traveler's rest. If I knew you were here to see my uncle, I wouldn't have told those Wynnwode rats they could cross," he said. Ewen handed Mavora a basket covered with a white cloth stitched with blue along the edges.

Mavora lifted the cloth and gave a contented sounding sigh. He patted his nephew on the shoulder. Ewen smiled at his uncle before turning to the elder priest. "Father Moridan," he said courteously, "I hope that I wasn't too late today." Moridan scoffed at Ewen. Ewen winked at Halthor as he said, "I expect that I will be joining your company in a few years. I keep my eyes wide and alert for that holy sign you told me of." Mavora shook his head with a peevish little expression as he took the skinned and filleted fish from the crock that Ewen brought it in. As the man lifted the lid to the steaming kettle on the fire, the rich scents of a savory broth filled the air. Mavora placed the fish pieces into the bubbling broth and covered it again.

Moridan picked up his awl and sat down again where he had the best of what little light was available to him. As their meal cooked and Ewen told his uncle about the latest mischief of his relatives, the old priest stared at the leather in his lap. Moridan was keenly aware of Halthor's distress. As he examined the boot for where to punch the next hole for the lacing, the old man tried to figure out the correct words to give the man encouragement and hope. Though Moridan found himself struggling with that concept himself. It wasn't every day that you encountered the herald of doom. And he didn't anticipate said herald being so utterly downcast by it, or unaware of what his work truly was.

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