Liturgy of Blood - Part XV

Murikeer knew that the moon was shining, despite the fact that overhead, all one could see for leagues in every direction were the formless shapes of sombre clouds. It lent a darkness to the Keep that was surpassed only by those endless winter nights in the Watchwoods, where the stars and moon would only rarely break through the tangle of snow-covered tree limbs. But at the Keep, there was always a torch flaring in the distance, reflected by dim shadows on the clouds above.

Occasionally the skunk would think back to his time spent those years up in the woods north of the Giant's Dike, hiding in his cave, eating what he could, with only Keletikt and the cave itself for company. And at times, he sought his own solitude, afraid of the crush of faces and names, despite the fact that for those years he had so often longed for the company of others. Now that he had it, he crept back into the lonely places, finding the empty passages in the library to study, or the most remote seat when he sat down to eat. After so many years of solitude, it had become his refuge.

Crossing over the veranda, Murikeer swept such thoughts from his mind. He was not awake at this early hour simply because of insomnia. His intention was motivated more by what he had seen of the Patriarch. After talking with him in the library about a good many things, and then the speech had given the previous evening, it had convinced him to take this course of action. Stepping around another bend in the corridor, he saw the two guards outside of the Long House.

He had not been there often, though enough times that he was familiar to all the guards. The first one, an aged-regressed boy, by the name of Allart if he remembered correctly, held his pike up, the end pointed towards Muri's chest. "State your business here," the boy replied, his voice a light tenor.

"I wish to speak with Misha. I tried to talk with George, but he was asleep." Murikeer shrugged slightly with his shoulders, his long tail twitching at a slight breeze in the air.

The two guards snorted at that. "Of course he is. Anybody without a reason to be awake is asleep right now. Why do you want to see Misha?"

"Because he can assign me to a patrol to oversee the southern reaches of the Pass, where I will be able to help protect the Patriarch's flanks this first day out."

Allart and the other, whom Muri was unfamiliar with, a collie it appeared, exchanged glances, and then the boy nodded. "I think you will most certainly find yourself out there then. We need all the help we can get for this one." Allart opened the door into the dimly lit main hall of the Long House. Murikeer stepped through, and the door was quietly shut behind him.

There were a few voices inside the Long House itself, towards the armoury mostly, where a few lights shone, spilling across the green carpeting. The stained glass windows were dark, as were the upper reaches of the room, shrouded in a darkness like a swarm of bats clutching the ceiling. The door to Misha's office was ajar though, and a faint light flickered within. Crossing the sombre hall quietly upon the thick pads of his paws, Murikeer waited a moment at the door, listening to the voices inside, and sniffing at their scent.

The first voice he instantly recognized as Misha's, and while the second was familiar, he had a bit of trouble placing it, though he smelled like a rodent of some kind. At that, he finally realized that it had to be the rat Matthias whom he'd chatted with a time or two. Then, with the back of his knuckles, he gently rapped on the door frame.

"Come in," Misha called out suddenly, his voice carrying through the room outside. Murikeer pushed the door open, and saw that his instincts had not failed him. Misha was standing behind his desk, while the rat Matthias had turned around in one chair to se who it was knocking on the Head of the Long Scouts door at three in the morning. Both of them appeared to be slightly startled when they saw it was the skunk. "Murikeer, what can I do for you?"

"Well," the skunk said as he glided into the room on silent paws. "Actually, I was thinking that I could do something for you."

"Oh?" the fox asked, grey eyes curious.

Muri decided that there was little point in beating around the bush. "I want to be on one of your deep patrols to the south to watch the Patriarch's back."

The fox leaned forward on the table, his tail wagging over the top of the chair behind him. "Llyn told me that you had cloistered yourself in the library so that you wouldn't have to be any part of his visit. Why the sudden desire to protect him, if I may ask?"

Matthias gently tapped the arm of his chair in interest as he watched, his expression unreadable. After having spent so much time alone, Murikeer had lost his ability to hide his feelings rather effectively, and he was sure his face revealed that. "Well, he found me anyway, and we talked for a bit. I watched his speech from afar, used a little bit of magic so that I could hear it better. I'd always thought the leaders of the Patildor could only envision harm for those who practice either magic or the Lothanasi faith, but he showed me differently. I would like to be sure that others among them feel the same way."

Misha appeared thoughtful for a moment, while the rat turned back around and gave the fox a pleading look. Brightleaf then nodded, his muzzle breaking open into a smile. "We would love to have you along, Muri. I was just describing to Charles here what his assignment will be. Most of the Long Scouts are already on their way to reconnoitre the area where Kashin said they will be camping the first night out. It is a day's walk after all. I can send you and Charles along to the same place. I'm curious though, why didn't you check in with George first?"

The skunk favoured the fox with a frown then, the scent of his musk increasing at his slight irritation. "George was asleep when I came by. Considering who is leaving tomorrow, I would have thought that such matters might interest him at the earliest possible time. So I came to see if you were up instead."

Misha laughed then, a loud barking sound. "You are one hour too early if you wished to see George. He's going to be handling affairs around the Keep as he usually does, so does not need to rise for another hour at least. The Long Scouts are the ones you are best off talking with anyway, and so here you are." The fox winked playfully at Muri then. "Had you been here an hour ago, you could have left with Llyn in fact. She's already begun her journey to the southern borders."

"With who?" Muri asked, curiously.

"Finbar. Don't worry, she'll be all right. If you want, I can have you two scouting in a region close by."

"I would appreciate that, yes." Murikeer appeared to notice the rat for the first time and flashed him a quick grin. "It appears that we will be travelling companions this day."

"It would seem so," Charles remarked, returning the smile. "So what did the Patriarch say to you when you talked? I never had a chance to speak with him aside from when I met him at the gates the first time."

Murikeer reached for the nearby seat, and slipped into it, his tail curling over one arm rest. "Surprisingly little about himself. He spent most of it asking about me and magic."

The rat blinked a moment. "After his speech yesterday, I knew he was a man of tolerant expression, I simply did not realize he was that tolerant. To ask after a faith his own specifically condemns, that is quite remarkable."

"Most," Misha nodded, and then pointed towards the map of the Valley that he had stretched out over his desk. "The Patriarch will be camping for the night in this nestle of hills, just a few hours from Castle Grenier. Due to the nature of his mission to Metamor, and Grenier's relations with us, his advisors felt it best if they circumvent that land altogether, so as far as we know, they don't even know he is here yet. I want the two of you to cover the fields just north of here. There are trees scattered about, so you will have plenty of cover. You can keep a good eye on the road from here as well, to keep a watch for any other travellers."

"How long will it take us to walk that far?"

"If you start now, you should arrive sometime in the early afternoon. It is not an easy distance to cover, especially not when you will have to be moving in secret, but from what Llyn has told me of your abilities Muri, I doubt you will have any difficulty."

Misha then turned to Charles who looked rather eager considering the hour of the morning. "Take Murikeer to the armoury, and find him something light that fits. And then dye your fur and start off Expect to see the Patriarch passing you both by sometime late in the afternoon. Don't forget to take something to eat with you when you go." Misha added the last as if he were referring to a specific event.

Charles grimaced slightly and then rose to his feet, turning to look at the skunk. "Shall we go get ready then?"

"I think I would like that," Murikeer smiled, his tail flicking once more to the side as he and the rat left Misha's office back into the gloom of the Long House. The golden light crept from the armoury across the floor as if it were a shadow as well. Glancing briefly at the rat as he walked briskly along at his side, he knew that it would be a pleasant day indeed.

Duke Thomas Hassan genuflected once more to the ancient man standing before him. On all sides, Keepers had gather to watch the recessional, where the Patriarch's men, and Thomas's own Knights of the Red Stallion were sandwiched between them. On either side of the Duke were Thalberg and Malisa, sparkling in their ceremonial attire, while Prince Phil and his betrothed Clover stood a bit further off, but no further from Akabaieth.

"I wish you a safe journey, your Eminence," Thomas called out loudly as he rose once more to his hooves. "You have given us all a wonderful dream, and I do hope that one day it may be more than mere fantasy."

"As do I," Akabaieth intoned loudly, the grand-fatherly smile on his face endearing. "Metamor is fertile soil for this dream, and I can already see that you live a good measure of it now. I hope that one day you will visit Yesulam, and grace us with your presence."

The horse lord nodded his long head expressively. "Oh, I hope that one day any of us could as well."

Akabaieth smiled, and then bowed respectfully one last time. "I thank you all for your hospitality. Truly, I felt as if this were a second home while I stayed with you all. May Eli's blessing be upon you all." He then turned, to the sound of the trumpeters grand proclamation, and walked to the carriage that awaited him. The two Yeshuel at his sides carried a stately pace, one that Akabaieth could easily surpass if he wished it. But he knew they walked so slow so that he might not exert himself, for which he was ever grateful.

Vinsah stood by the carriage, his face shrouded as he gazed back towards the glistening towers and minarets of the castle at the far end of the town. Yet he bowed and lowered those eyes when Akabaieth approached. Holding out his hand, he and the Yeshuel helped the Patriarch climb into the carriage with ease. Akabaieth favoured him with that large smile as he settled into the central seat, stretching his legs and rubbing the knees with one tired hand.

The trumpets flared again as the carriage jostled slightly, one of the Yeshuel, Kashin of course as was his ceremonial duty as the primary guardian, whipping the team of horses into motion. Already assembled about them, the knights and soldiers would have fallen into formation and begun the slow march towards the gates themselves. The two Yeshuel who sat in the main carriage with him, gazed softly out the windows at the faces of the Keepers, many of whom were collecting after the carriage to follow them out. Vinsah snorted slightly as he watched them, shaking his head slowly. "They always do this, they always follow after you, hoping that you will make one more appearance."

"I know," Akabaieth said softly as he stroked the back of one palm with his slender fingers. "Can you truly blame them?"

"No, I suppose not." Vinsah murmured quietly, his expression creasing with something else. The Bishop of Abaef had found his eyes focussed on something else, the massive gates along the outer wall of the Keep. Tensing, he watched them draw closer, the image of that dream, and the man with the bloodied hands standing beyond the portal, became stronger and more vivid.

Trembling, Vinsah clutched the arms of his seat tightly, peering at the mortar as it approached with an inevitability that felt as tangible as his own flesh. He kept telling himself that it was just a dream, and that he was letting himself be frightened by mere phantasm, but he could not shake the visage of that dark-cloaked man. He wished to clutch to that woman's radiant form again, and with that, came the sensation that something lay over his face.

Reaching up his hand instantly, he felt around his eyes quickly, not caring who else noticed the motion. It was still soft flesh; there was no thick cloth to mask his face. Breathing in relief at that, he tried to ignore the approaching gate, but it continued to dominate his thoughts. It was ridiculous to let himself be terrified of something that he had only glimpsed in a nightmare, but his emotions did not feel to be his own.

Closing his eyes tightly, he breathed in fear, as if the moment he passed out of Metamor he would be struck dead. Yet, only a few seconds later, Akabaieth said, "You can open your eyes again, Vinsah. We've left Metamor."

Chagrined, Vinsah peered out of the carriage, and saw that the Patriarch's assurances had been true. They were working down the slope towards the main road to the south, while the Keep itself lay behind them. Turning back, the Bishop found he could not meet Akabaieth's consoling gaze. Instead, he rebuked himself for his weakness in the face of a dream. Yet, his master said nothing, for which he was grateful.

It was still many hours before he could even attempt the casting, but still, Wessex wished to be prepared. The leaves he'd used before had been meticulously and carefully cleaned. Any mark he might add to them could change what memories they held of his enemy, and those were the very treasures he wished to explore.

The rest of the leaves remained in the bag that Rupert had filled, and that had been placed in his den so that it would not interfere in the casting, when he attempted it. The conditions for that would not be right until the afternoon, but, as in any such magical endeavour, there were many such considerations he had to work out before the appointed hour arrived. He'd sorted through his dusts and selected the ones he would need, and most of the rituals that would be required to break past the defences of a mind like Zagrosek's, even in absentia. But those were only the mot general of requirements, for there was so much more that would be involved.

Foremost on his mind was the identity of that woman with him. The symbol of a pointing finger was one that he was sure he'd seen before, and so the first thing he had begun to do was to try and find the reference. Her identity might not be important to the knowing of Zagrosek's mind, but it certainly would assist him if she had also participated in the spell craft that had touched those leaves in his workroom. Of course, scouring his tomes he had found little luck, as there was no mention of a pointing finger in any heraldic symbols.

Staring once more at his drawing of it, he set the book down on the table and just let his mind wander over that symbol. The finger itself was pointed downwards slightly, while the other three fingers were curled up beneath the thumb. There was no indication what that finger had been pointing at, for its tip rested in the air. It was a very easily constructed symbol, but also one that escaped his current understanding.

Wessex had encountered many hands and fingers in his research. They were popular themes to use in heraldic symbols, especially for mage clans. They were often used as signs of power, and the action that they employed conveyed the means of power. The Sondeckis heraldry was a good example of this, where the hand with sword inside represented their dedication to combat, and the shield that circumscribed the hand reflected their desire to protect others. There were many others that were similar, but not like the one he stared fixedly at now.

Grimacing, he tapped the image thoughtfully with one finger, tracing the tip across each curve. Wessex stared at it as he drew it out with his hand, wondering who that woman he'd seen with Zagrosek was. He'd thought she would be a southern mage, but none of the clans that he had read involved a pointing finger as their symbol. Unless of course she belonged to one of the two clans that had been taken from Sudenhart Arcanum. He'd have to ask Habakkuk when he would have those two pages rewritten for him sometime soon.

However, Wessex gazed at his own small hand and blinked in surprise. A boyish grin spread over his face, the cheeks flush with sudden delight. Laughing out loud, he pounded the table several times and jumped from his chair in childish delight. He looked back at the figure and envisioned the hand moving. In that moment, it had all made sense to him, and he knew exactly what the woman had to be.

The symbol was not of a pointing finger at all, but one that was drawing something.

"It looks like the Keepers are finally giving up," Iosef said as he pulled his head back into the carriage. "I only saw about five left on the road behind us."

Akabaieth nodded slowly then, setting his book aside. Vinsah was still curled into his chair, gazing glumly out at the trees. The Patriarch reached into the satchel that he'd had placed in the carriage early that morning. Pulling open the loose knots, he drew forth the bit of quartz that Murikeer had fashioned for him. Gazing into the flecks of lapis for a moment, he smiled at the remembered conversation he'd had with the skunk.

A sudden intake of breath from the corner told him that Vinsah remembered it as well. He turned to face his adjutant, his gaze calm, but equally concerned. "Have you learned so little that you would shrink from a mere trinket? Murikeer Khannas gave it freely as a gift, to a man that he had never given consideration to before, and I suspect thought to be an oafish fellow. It is symbol of respect from a Lothanasi. What could possibly upset you about that?"

Vinsah sighed, trying to ignore the two Yeshuel who sat stone-faced in the carriage with them. "It's not the gift, not really. I suppose it is more what he said about you, about our Ecclesia, and about magic. Nobody has ever dared suggest to the Patriarch, especially not a man from a foreign faith, that our views on such a pervasive thing as magic are completely wrong. You are the Vicar of Eli, why didn't you defend your fellow Followers?"

Akabaieth rubbed the stone with one finger, as if he too could summon the magic to shape the stone as Muri did. "But the Ecclesia is wrong on the issue of magic. Murikeer was right, we all have magic. We may not think of it as such though. I have thought on this quite a bit since our conversation. It will take quite a bit of effort, but on this issue as well, we can make the Council of Bishops see our way."

The Bishop almost bristled at that remark. "Our way?" he asked, resisting the urge to clench his teeth at the assumption.

Sighing, the old man looked back down at the quartz that bore his own face. "There is something more bothering you than just my conversation with Murikeer. Please, I care for you more than I have any other, Vinsah. Please tell me what plagues your mind."

Vinsah hung his head low then, resting his hands in his lap, the burning ways of youth in his fifty-year old heart. He averted his eyes from that stone of quartz, though he knew that the eyes within it were made of lapis and not agate. "My dream two nights ago." Akabaieth nodded at that, as if in expectation of that answer. "There was a stone just like that, only of my face, that Murikeer and others kept trying to give me."

"Did you ever accept it?"

"No, I wanted nothing to do with it. It was–" Vinsah sighed, unable to finish the sentence as he shuddered.

"What was it?"

"I don't really know. I suppose you would have had to be there to understand."

Akabaieth took a slow breath and cupped his hands over the stone, obscuring it completely between his long, slender fingers. "Were the eyes on your stone agate?"

Vinsah snapped his head up in shock. "How did you know that?"

The Patriarch returned the gaze, this one intended to be comforting, even though the eyes said that they knew his words would bring none. "I had a dream last night, much like yours, though quite peaceful. I was preparing to sail, when I turned and saw this tall woman, with radiant black hair and deep eyes, standing by the wharf with you by her side. She had a gentle hand on your shoulder, while you clutched a bit of quartz in your hands. Oh, you also were wearing a black mask over your eyes."

Vinsah could feel his skin crawl, lumps over lumps, as he listened to the Patriarch's words. His heart skipped several beats as he gripped the arms of his chairs tighter. His short nails dug into the wood, chipping at it. "What happened?"

Akabaieth's gaze bored deeply into Vinsah's face, striking at his heart, and what he hid there. "She asked me to leave you in her care while I was sailing. Nothing more, that is all she would do."

"And what did you do?"

"I told her that the decision was yours, and that I would not stop you, only relay her request to you." He then leaned forward slightly and gestured to the door. "It is my belief that you are being called to stay here at the Keep. I do not know why, and I do not know by whom. If I felt that this was a direct command from Eli, I would insist that you return to that castle this instant. In fact, I never would have let you leave. This lady, whoever she is, feels that you should stay. I do not believe she means you any harm, which is why I am even telling you this."

"Do you want me to leave?" Vinsah asked hotly, yet there was a tinge of fear to that voice. The Yeshuel stirred slightly, noting Vinsah, in case through anger he should overstep his bounds.

"I think you need to do what you feel is right."

"But you feel that what is right for me to do is to stay at Metamor and become cursed like they!" Vinsah stammered in the heat, his whole body shaking with fury at the suggestion that gnawed at his heart like a ravenous beast.

"I believe that in the end, it may be better for you to live as they do, yes." Akabaieth slipped the piece of quartz back into his satchel and grimaced. "I would also be happy to have you at my side when we proclaim our message of peace to the rest of the churches in the Midlands. I will respect either wish. If you want to return to Metamor, I can have two of the knights escort you back. But if so, you will have to decide quickly, for we will soon be half a day's walk from that city."

Vinsah peered at the Patriarch as if he had just started speaking in a foreign tongue. There was no doubt in his mind about what he wished to do. "Of course I will stay with you, for it is at your side that I belong. If I go to Metamor, I could jeopardize your mission of peace. Especially if I become a woman. You can imagine the furor that would cause in the Council of Bishops. They would excommunicate me!"

"Sadly, I fear that you are correct about that," Akabaieth murmured quietly. "Very well then, I shall speak no more of these dreams."

Vinsah breathed a sigh of relief, and let his body relax. He nodded in thanks to the Patriarch and set to ignoring the unruly stares the two Yeshuel gave him. Once this day was over, he would never again have to think of these unpleasant matters. He eagerly awaited that moment as he glumly rested his gaze upon the passing trees outside the carriage.

"So, how much longer do you think it will take them to pass by?" Charles asked as he peered at his companions nestled in the small grove of trees along the rise of one of the many hills in the southern regions of the valley.

They were four, having met up only an hour before on their patrols. Murikeer and Charles had shared quite a few words on the first portion of their journey, but had grown quieter as the trees thinned out from the thick forests that carpeted the ground, to these occasional patches dotting the surface. Llyn and Finbar had been making their rounds, having already been in these remote areas for a few hours, and were delighted by the extra company.

Of course, the rat and Finbar had spent much of the time keeping their eyes open for signs of an enemy's passage while Llyn and Murikeer reacquainted themselves. Of course, after the first few minutes, they were as attentive as their companions, as they found a place on one of the hills from which they could watch the procession pass by.

"Any moment now, I would think," Murikeer remarked as he gazed up at the dark sky. "It is hard to tell the hour with storm clouds overhead."

"I think it is going to rain tonight," Finbar murmured as he sniffed at the air. "It smells like it."

"Wonderful, our fur is going to get sopping wet!" Charles bemoaned.

Llyn laughed a trilling laugh "At least for some of us that won't be a problem."

Both Murikeer and the rat scowled at the two mustelids as they chortled in glee at the irony. The skunk was about to reach over and suddenly grab the mink's leg to startle her where she sat, when something caught his eye. Turning back to face the north road, he saw the glint of armour in the diminished daylight as the first of the Patriarch's caravan came down the road.

"They're here," he whispered quietly, drawing back into the shadows of the grove, though his eyes continued to watch the shapes slowly emerge.

Matthias and Llyn both moved forward to see, while Finbar scanned the area once again for any sign of interlopers. But, of course, there was nothing there. The ferret had been unable to shake that strange feeling that he'd had when scouting out the woods near Lorland the previous morning with Charles, but so far, he'd never felt it again quite so tangibly. Even just then as the Patriarch's carriage was within shouting distance, the sensation was but a clinging memory.

The rat turned back to smile at his friend Murikeer, and to urge him to come forward more, but he had wrapped the thick expanse of his tail about his front and was kneading the fur with his paws. That he was nervous was not something to dispute. "Is something wrong, Muri?" Matthias finally asked.

"No," the skunk added quickly. "I'm just not used to watching this sort of thing. It's been a long time for me."

Llyn smiled favourably to him, and that expression was enough to embolden him to step out from behind the tree-trunk and his own tail. "But, for such a man as he, I suppose I should be honoured. And I am, strange as it is to say."

The rat nodded and patted the ground between himself and the mink. "Then let's see him off this one last time, shall we?"

Murikeer took a deep breath and stepped forward. "Yes, we shall." His musk very slight, the skunk slipped between the two Keepers, and grinned as he watched the parade of humans pass by before him. He idly wondered if he would ever see the like of Akabaieth among the Ecclesia again.

Vocalizing the last phrases of the incantation, Wessex pressed both of his palms into small hexagons on the diagram before him. Not only was the workroom covered in white chalk lines, but also many of the lines decorating its surface were formed from carefully placed granules of the coloured sands that he kept in storage. The leaves that he'd saved from his last casting were once again placed in individual circles, with one larger circle containing them. Only this time, that larger circle was inscribed within a multifaceted hexagon, with lines of dust radiating out towards his hands.

The fact that each grain of sand had to be properly placed was the primary reason that the spell had taken him much of the afternoon to prepare for. That and the fact that to travel through thoughts required it to be night, for then it would be far more easy to pass into the realms of the shadows and thoughts that lurked within them. It was not the Shadow realm itself, but merely a periphery upon which the boy mage could walk and find Zagrosek's mind. It was dangerous, but it could offer him the clues he needed to defeat the wizard.

Yet, once he set his palms within the hexagons, the coloured dust sparkled, gleaming a pale flame as the torches about the room dimmed. The leaves writhed with the forceful energies flowing through their dried veins. Yet, they rippled and shimmered, images rising up from each of them to coalesce into the whole that he had seen yesterday. The profile of Zagrosek's face just before some strange woman's. His studies had told him more of the woman, and he would explore her more later, but currently, the object of his desire was the black-robed Sondecki.

Wessex peered into the wizard's eyes, noting the contour of the dark iris against the round pupil, drawing it wide further with his will, wondering what things could be reflected there in. He felt detached from his own form, as if he were flying through that very forest, a particle of dust, settling in before this man's face, studying it before plunging into the eye itself. Yet, he never quite reached there, as some strange unseen force blocked his way.

In consternation, Wessex pushed at the empty air, but it thickened like mud the further in he went. In fact, the very features before him dimmed like a filmy soap as he pressed deeper in, until he could barely move at all, except o back out. Grimacing, he put both of his hands into the mix, and drew them apart, as if he were digging through the sand. He then held the muck away from him, packing it tightly against the air, holding it in place.

Proceeding like that, the boy was very quickly able to dig his way through the defence about Zagrosek, and finally plunge into his eye. There was a flash of electricity that made him cry out in terror, as that black visceral mass coated everything he could see like a plague. It was the same muck that had radiated from the censer so many months ago. Yet, there was one very powerful image that dwarfed all others, one that made Wessex claw his way from out of that diseased mind and back into the real world, where he quickly wiped clean the spell, scattering the dust across the slate floor.

The sight was of Zagrosek plunging an ornate Sathmoran knife into an old man's chest.

Akabaieth turned the flame in his lantern down slightly as he closed his devotional and set it upon a cushion. The large carriage that he and the others had ridden in on their trip to Metamor was convertible into a small one man bed and side table, and that is where Akabaieth had slept almost every night for the last two months. The turquoise folds of the curtains draped over the windows were a comforting sight. The gently swayed in the cold wind of the October night, but otherwise remained as stolid as faithful companions. The rat-tat-tat of rain on the top of the carriage slowly grew louder, like the gentle beat of the waves against shore.

Kneeling upon a pillow before his bed, he lowered his eyes and began to think over all that he had seen that day in their travels again, and all that had been said an unsaid. Slowly, words began to come to his lips, in a voice very soft, and very private. "My Abba, thank you for your son Yahshua, and His sacrifice for all of us. And thank you for your servants at Metamor Keep, for their hospitality. I do hope that you can multiply their hearts, and bring such understanding to all peoples of this world.

"And I ask your blessings upon this place, and its people, for such great suffering and great hope I have rarely seen. Grant blessings upon Prince Phil, who has done me a great favour, one that I thank you for finally making true. And bless Murikeer Khannas in his pursuits, for I believe the words he spoke to me will bring great understanding to our people. Watch over Vinsah who I know has a long road ahead of him, give him a comforter along the way. Also, I ask for intercession on behalf of Egan, formerly Sir Donovan of Thorn, that his eternal soul might find peace at last.

"Lastly, I pray that you would give aid to Raven hin'Elric. She is a faithful woman, even though she does not worship your Son. Help us both to cleanse the council, through whatever medium you deem worthy, be it this Elenin or not. Thank you for giving me such a long life to appreciate all the wonders in this world. I give all these things unto you, Abba, in the name of Eli, and of Yahshua. A-men."

He fell silent, his voice had already disappeared within the confines of the cloth shrouded carriage. Rising on tired knees, he slipped beneath the thick quilts of his bed, drawing the bit of hemp he kept with him into his hands. Running his fingers along the fraying seams, he began to work over his knots, each and every one with practised ease. Yet, halfway through his exercise, he stopped and stared at the square knot he'd worked into the hemp. He'd passed his seamanship exam finally.

Opening the door to the lantern, he blew the wick out completely, casting his room into darkness. With the knot clutched in one hand, he laid down to rest, a contented smile upon his lips.

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