Rousing Dreams - Part III

A most excellent vintage,” Vinsah crowed as he leaned back in the chair, setting the goblet of Father Hough’s cider down. “Rarely have I tasted a better brew than this.”

The cider was warm all the way down his throat, filling his entire body with a solemn quiet. It tasted firmly of apples, a treat his new form thoroughly enjoyed. Father Hough smiled broadly at the accolade, and used the ladle to pour more into the Bishop’s cup. “My parents were distillers. They expected me to go into their trade when I was older.”

“That may take a while,” the raccoon ventured, waggling one claw at the child priest.

Hough laughed then, and wrapped his hands about his own cup. “True enough now.” He returned to his chair, slipping into the warm fabrics. The crackle of the fire sounded in the hearth. The shutters rattled against the panes of glass at the whim of the wind. The day had turned bitterly cold towards the late afternoon. By the sun’s set, a front had moved in from the north, layering the valley with fierce winds and more snow. Vinsah was very glad he was with his fellow priest and not outside fighting the elements.

“So, your note said that you were going to be helping the people of Metamor with the rebuilding. Did you manage to find some?” Hough asked, cradling the goblet of cider in his hands. The boy priest took a sip from the rim, smiling as his curly brown hair fell over his ears.

Vinsah nodded, sipping once more at the sweet cider. “I spent the morning rebuilding the Baker’s roof, and then most of the afternoon at one of the Inns talking with two others. Do you know Rickkter and Murikeer Khunnas?”

Father Hough nodded at that after a moment’s pause. “I know of them both, though I do not know either of them very well. Rickkter is a raccoon like you, and some sort of weapons mage. Murikeer came to Metamor a short time after I did. He’d changed away from Metamor, and had fled into the wilderness to the North.” Hough hesitated for a moment. “He was helpful in a certain matter, before your arrival, for which I’m grateful.”

Vinsah’s ears perked up slightly, as best they could. His tail flitted from side to side in agitation. There was something far deeper being referred to, though he did not know what it could be. “Is it anything you can speak of?”

Hough took a deep breath and then nodded. “I can speak of it, some of it anyway. But I will not, not now at least.”

Grimacing, Vinsah sipped at the cider, enjoying the warm taste. “I noticed that Murikeer seems rather melancholy about something. Do you know what it is?”

“Probably Llyn,” Hough said, his voice low. “It was no secret that he loved her. I’ve been told that he was also going to propose to her. And then the attack came, and she was killed.” Hough shuddered, and buried his face in his cup.

Shock filled him at hearing those words. Many a man he had known had lost their loved ones. But the pain was just as visceral each time. This Llyn had filled up so much of Murikeer’s life, he’d wanted to bind her to him for all time. And then death snatched her away. What life did he have left, but one that was incomplete and empty? Vinsah knew that feeling all too well, a feeling he could still bring back when he looked at his paws.

“I had no idea,” Vinsah mouthed, sighing heavily. Was he meant to help Murikeer heal? Was that what his lady wanted for him to do? Perhaps she would tell him in his dreams that night. “The cider is good,” he added, eliciting a smile from the boy.

“Thank you,” the grief was ebbing from his voice. Though they were both priests, Vinsah could see that Hough found the grief of others no easier to bear than he did.

“So tell me,” Vinsah said, letting lighter tones sound upon his tongue, “what have you been doing today while I’ve been rebuilding roofs?”

Hough smiled and leaned back in his chair. “I spent most of the day making the rounds amongst the parishioners. I brought a portion of the collection to the widow Morgan and her boys. They have been staying in a friend’s home ever since the attack. Once the snows are cleared, I’m going to organise a group of parishioners dedicated to building new homes for every Follower who lost theirs in the attack.”

“Does she have any means of work?”

Hough shook his head. “Her husband was killed in the attack, and her boys are all too young still. Her legs are too weak for her to move about, and she never learned to read and write.”

Vinsah grunted and nodded. Such a condition was all too common. Being a priest, he took it for granted. “Is there anyone that can teach her? The Keep pays well enough for scribes.” As they should, one of their largest export was their tales. They would need all the scribes they could find.

“I’m going to speak with the Writer’s Guild in a few days to see if they can spare one of their own to teach her. All three headmasters are Followers remarkably enough.”

The raccoon smiled and sipped at the cider again. Its warmth was a pleasant contrast to the rattling of the windows from the snow and bitter wind outside. “How is life amongst your parishioners?”

One of Hough’s eyebrows rose slightly at that, but he did not pursue whatever it was that had surprised him. “Fairly well. There are many others like the widow Morgan that I have been visiting over the past few weeks. But they all have places to stay for the time being. Merchants are returning to the Keep, many thinking they could make a killing, but they have not been as successful as they would have liked. Life is returning to normal, and people are optimistic. I enjoy hearing about the everyday sort of problems once more. In fact, in the last two weeks, I’ve had three pairs come to me and ask me to perform the marriage rites for them!”

“Splendid,” Vinsah crowed, his claws tapping at the goblet while he held it. “Will you need any help?”

“Yes, I could use some.” Hough set his cup in his lap and his face turned speculative. “Bishop, there is one thing I wish to know. You cannot intend to remain here helping people rebuild their homes. What do you intend to do? I cannot imagine how you must feel, adrift in the sea without any rudder.”

Vinsah curled his muzzle in a short smile. “For one who cannot imagine how it must feel, you described it fairly well, Father.” Hough blushed at that, but did not interrupt. “I’m not sure what I will be doing. I know that at some point my status will have to be decided by the Bishop’s Council in Yesulam. I am in no hurry, but I cannot wait forever either. I suppose I am waiting. I think I will know when the time to act has come. Until then I just want to be of service where I can here.”

The child priest nodded at that, and sipped some more from his cider. “You can count on our support no matter what you do, Bishop.”

Unable to repress his smile, Vinsah let his teeth show from beneath his lips. “Thank you. I do remember when the Bishop’s Council debated your fate. It was contentious sometimes, I did not know how to vote at first myself. And then Patriarch Akabaieth, who had been fairly quiet the whole time, said this. ‘Are we not all children of Eli?’ And then I knew.”

A scratching at the priest’s door distracted them both. Vinsah looked to the door, but stayed in his seat. Hough set his goblet upon the arm of his chair and crossed to the door. When he opened it up, his face transformed to one of childish delight. “Madog!” he cried, and swung the door wide. Vinsah blinked as he stared at a clockwork beast that resembled a fox. In its steel jaws it carried a bright metal ball. The long tail was wagging in canine delight.

The metal fox stepped in and set the metal ball gingerly at its forepaws, ears turned towards the youthful priest. Hough patted his head unafraid with one hand, smiling as if he were truly a child. “It is so good to see you! What are you doing here?”

“Wanted to play with my friend,” the mechanical fox said in a clear voice. The tongue dangled from its jaws, as if it were panting. Vinsah just stared at the creature in disbelief. He had heard mention of this creature, but have never before seen it. Father Hough had often spoken of it with a fervour that showed just how much the Keep had made him a child. Now that he was face to face with it, the Bishop could not find the words he wished to.

Hough smiled broadly, laughing happily as he reached down for the metal ball. He then stopped nd straightened up, and looked over at Vinsah. “Madog, you should meet my friend. Madog, this is Bishop Vinsah. Bishop, this is the automaton that I told you about, Madog. He wants to play.”

Madog turned his slit eyes to Vinsah and then bowed his head deeply, tail coming immediately to a halt. Its voice was solemn as it genuflected, almost filled with awe. “You are he,” the mechanical fox intoned.

Vinsah blinked again at that, and even Father Hough appeared surprised by this declaration. “Hello, Madog,” the raccoon finally managed to say. “It is good to finally meet you.”

“And you,” Madog replied, lifting his head once more. Their gaze locked for a moment. Vinsah felt as if he was looking into the eyes of a creature so old that time itself could not describe it. Strangely enough, he was reminded ever so slightly of the resolve he found in his lady’s face. A warmth spread through him, but not one that completely comforted him.

“What did you mean when you said that I am he?” Vinsah asked, shifting slightly in the chair. His tail tip was flicking from side to side.

“That you are he,” Madog replied, as if that would make the entire matter as plain as day.

Hough shook his head and held up one hand. “Do not bother asking him to explain. That is a much as you will ever glean from him.”

Madog began to whine expectantly then, and leaned his head down, nudging the metal ball towards Hough. The priest laughed then and patted the metal fox once more on the head. “Would you like to watch us play?”

“Yes,” Vinsah nodded, gripping his goblet in one paw as he rose from his seat. “I think I would.”

The young priest smiled, and motioned for Madog to step back from their room. Madog bounded out the door, and then stood in the hallway outside, tail stiff, eyes fixed upon the metal ball. Hough rolled it with his hands until he was outside as well, and then gave it a good firm push. Madog bounded after it, snatching it up in his jaws and bringing it back, depositing it at Hough’s feet with a solid thunk.

Vinsah stood in the doorway and watched as the process repeated itself. A boy and his dog, was all that he could think of. Or, a dog and his boy he realised. The mechanical fox seemed to render Hough nothing but a boy, for when he looked at his fellow priest, he did not see the cleric, but the child.

Sipping on his cider, he watched, mind confused with all sorts of strange thoughts.

Once the hour had grown late, Vinsah had excused himself from the two playmates and retired to his quarters. He did his evening devotionals, and said his prayers. His clothes he folded once more and returned them to the top of the dresser. Turning up the covers to his bed, he slipped inside, taking a moment to remove the tree pendant he wore and lay it upon the small stand at his bedside. For a moment his fingers traced across the curves of that yew, and his heart ached. Yet it also filled with a profound sense of joy. At the end of the day, he had no regrets.

Leaning over, he blew out the light in his lamp, and the room was swallowed by the darkness. He laid his head upon his pillow, and pulled the quilts over top of his chest up to his muzzle. He curled on his side, with his tail pressing up against the back of his legs. He found that position to be the most comfortable. His whiskers pressed against the pillow, but he’d learned to ignore that.

The windows rattled occasionally from the force of the wind outside. There would be quite a bit more snow upon the ground tomorrow. If the storm had let up by then, he was sure to find the younger Keepers running about and throwing snowballs at each other. Some of the more talented Keepers had even made snow sculptures when the snow was sticky enough. A few of them were still standing from the previous storm. He idly wondered how long they would last.

Even as Vinsah felt himself beginning to slip into slumber, his heart warming at the thought of seeing his lady once more, his mind kept bringing back the words of the mechanical fox. What had Madog meant by it? Even Father Hough had been surprised, so it could not have been a normal greeting. Plaintively, Vinsah asked his lady what it could mean. She did not immediately respond of course, but perhaps she would in his dreams.

With her image fixed in his mind, muzzle curled into a smile, the Bishop let the warmth and solemnity of sleep take him.

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