by Christopher Hughes

As I turned the page of my latest find, I suddenly broke out in a yawn. I stretched and gently pulled my pocketwatch from my robe, lifting the lid with a claw. Ye gods, nine already. Only now aware of my exhaustion, I rose and shut the tome, yawning as I tried, again unsuccessfully, to remove the knots from my shoulders. Ah well, I thought. I could relieve them once back in my room.

I rubbed at my tired eye and placed my monocle under my robes, again hanging from its chain but as of yet unenchanted. I needed to find the materials and time to replace the ensorcellment upon it, but the casting was physically weary to me. If you'd paid more attention to your lessons, I thought bitterly, you might have less difficulty with such things now. I shrugged and cast aside such thoughts. They did me no good now.

I carried the volume up to the front of the library, but Fox had already left for the evening. Wonderful. Hopefully he hasn't locked me in again. I placed the book on the counter and then tested the door. Thankfully, it opened. I smiled. At least Fox had that much presence of mind. Had I been his position, I might've locked him inside.

I left the library and made my way back to the main courtyard, pausing to smell the night air. I've always found it relaxing, just to stand in the moonlight. I closed my eyes and raised my muzzle, breathing in deep of the star-touched wind. It was at that point that I realised I wasn't alone. Odd. Normally the only one up at this time of night is Channing, and I shouldn't be able to detect his scent with him in the tower. I turned, trying to pick up the scent in the air.

Matthias. At this hour? While everything was quite blurry, I could still see the blur in the sky that was the crescent moon. Surely he would be in bed by now. Something must have disturbed his slumber. Perhaps another inspiration. I smiled; Wanderer I knew had a propensity for pacing the halls when writer's block would strike. Perhaps the rat was attempting to sort out some particularly tangled tale in his own mind.

I followed the scent to the far end of the courtyard, where I saw what could only be the head of the Writer's Guild, sitting with his tail curled around his feet, his chin resting upon his paws. I raised my monocle to my rested eye and studied him. His eyes were fixed on some point in the heavens. He seemed quite lost in thought. Distracted. I could smell his anger, and his frustration.


His head turned sharply towards me, startled. So lost in thought he was, that he hadn't heard my approach. "Oh, Christopher." His voice was distant. Clearly he had his mind on other matters. He indicated the stones next to him. "Have a seat."

I sat next to him and removed my monocle, the world again passing out of focus. "Rare is it that I've seen you up at this hour. Something is on your mind." It was a statement, but I hoped he would hear the question behind it.

I saw him turn his head. "No doubt you've heard of what happened this morning."

I nodded. "Indeed." I didn't mention that Brian had said Saulius suffered three cracked ribs and that his heart was spared a rupture only by his armor, which had a paw-shaped dent in it. Or that two of the other rats, so rarely seen above ground, had gone into the Deaf Mule talking of Matthias lashing out and laying Saulius out with one blow. Such would not add to the conversation. Or his peace of mind.

After a short pause. "If I may, would you mind telling me what happened in your own words?"

He said nothing for a moment, then he lowered his head. "I lost control."

I raised an eyebrow. "You?"

He nodded once, his paws balling into fists. "The first time in five years."

I went from concerend to puzzled. "Five years? This has happened before?"

He turned away. "'Tis in the past, Chris. Best to leave it there. It's not something I want to discuss."

I nodded and shrugged, still confused but unwilling to pry. This was an issue I felt would continue to haunt him until he had put it aside, but until he wished to address it, there was little I myself could do.

However, others might be able to help where I could do nothing. "Tell me, Charles," I said quiely, using the rat's first name for a change. "Have you been shriven as of late?"

He looked shocked. "Pardon?"

I smiled slightly. "Come now, please. Just because I do not share your faith means not that I do not understand it. I know that when a matter weighs heavily upon your conscience, it is best to discuss it with God, is it not?"

He nodded, then his head lowered back to the ground, his paws clenched tightly. "Usually, but how am I supposed to come before Him when I can't even do what's right and admit it to myself?"

I put a paw on his shoulder. "As I understand it, Eli hears what is in your heart, not what comes from your lips. Is Eli not all-knowing? If you ask Him for help, surely he will give it. Is that not His way? If you can not ask for what has passed so many years before, at the very least you can ask for what happened this morning. And while there, you could pray for Sir Saulius as well. His is a soul in need of some comfort, I understand."

The rat frowned. "But this keep has no priest. To where do you suggest I go to be shriven? Midland is over two days' ride."

I stood. "Raven is an accomplished priestess. She may not be a Follower proper, but she understands the faith, and has some sway with gods and spirits. It may be late, but I believe she should still be in the chapel, saying benedictions."

Matthias ruffled his whiskers in irritation. "'Tis not a proper Follower shriving." He shook his head in anger, but then sighed deeply, "However, one thing I have learned in my five years here is to accept what I can get." He picked up his chew stick in one hand and then looked me in the eye. "Thank you for your counsel, Christopher." He bowed low and started for the chapel.

"Oh, and Charles?"

He stopped and turned back. "Yes?"

I rose and smiled, clasping my paws in front of me. "Should you ever wish to talk of this, or of anything else, I am always here. Feel free to stop by my room or the library at any time."

He smiled slightly and nodded. "Thank you again." And then he was gone to the chapel.

I yawned, not knowing how much time had passed, and not truly caring. Slowly I made my way to my room and disrobed, pausing to finally ease the itch that had been plaguing my back for at least two hours. As I lay down and pulled the thin blanket over me, I wondered what was so horrible in Charles' past that could lead him to such anguish. Lost control, he said. But before I could puzzle it any further, I was asleep.