The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XXVIII - In the Garden

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

When the sun sets, the streets of Yesulam quickly grow cold. Despite the heat of the desert sun, the people of Yesulam were a people of the day. When that brisk evening air began to flow, they took to the warmth of their homes. Houses were built small so that men and women could huddle together and keep each other warm without recourse to hearths and other devices commonly found in other lands. Few would venture onto the streets of night, and then only out of necessity.

But the chill did not come until after the fall of night. For Felsah, kneeling in the small monastic stone cell that adjoined Jothay’s quarters, it was cold already.

Though it had only been moments before that the Magyars, Akaleth, and the knight had quietly slipped back within the hidden recesses of the walls to observe, Felsah felt as if he’d been kneeling on the cold stone for hours. He shivered as he tried to compose his racing heart and mind. Any minute now Sir Czestadt of the Driheli would come expecting to find the raccoon Vinsah here. What would he do when he saw a Questioner priest instead?

Strangely, all day long he knew that he would be waiting in this cell. When they had settled on their plan, it had occurred to him that there was little they could do to make sure that Czestadt didn’t try to track Vinsah down. Somebody had to stay in Vinsah’s place to occupy his time. Even now, he wasn’t sure that this gambit would work. But what else could he do? How else could he help?

Felsah drew his black cloak more tightly about his frame, huddling within its protective warmth. In that empty place where he could do nothing but wait for the inevitable, his mind chose to occupy itself with all the things that had happened to bring him to that place. The one thing he had always feared to do, to wait knowing what might come for him, and with no ability to stop what may come, was now upon him.

He hadn’t wanted to be a Questioner priest when he’d first come to the seminary. No, he had hoped to be a parish priest with a flock to tend. But his elders had assured him that his skills were that of the Questioner; anything else was a waste of Eli’s gifts to him. And so, knowing that it was his rightful place, he elected to join the Questioners and don their black robes with red crosses. It meant a lifetime of being feared, and always seeking the worst in humanity, but it was where he was meant to serve Eli.

He was an enforcer. Felsah made sure that the Follower community held fast to the Ecclesia’s edicts. Those that did not had to be shown the error of their ways.

Felsah swallowed heavily and closed his eyes. This was all but one more act in doing the work of Eli. Though it may cost him dearly, he would not flinch from this duty. Czestadt had to lead them to the altar. He had to do that, and only if Felsah could get him to either lead him there, take him there, or just go without bothering to find Vinsah.

He hoped that Kehthaek had safely lead the raccoon to the Sondecki vessel. Vinsah would be safe at Metamor. They were a people who were fierce in protecting their own. Vinsah may have been born in Abaef and may have come to Metamor less than a year ago, but the curses on that ancient city made any who visited for too long a citizen. They would protect him there from all of his enemies, and for that Felsah was glad.

He wished that there was somebody who could protect him. His cloak shielded him against the cold, but it could do nothing more. Felsah shivered.

It took several minutes before Felsah finally admitted to himself that he was frightened. He had heard what this knight Czestadt could do. A fanatic Driheli was capable of a great many sins in the pursuit of their twisted loyalty to the Ecclesia. They were ruthless, but tolerated because they followed orders. What other orders had Jothay given him that Felsah knew nothing about?

His eyes darted from side to side, noting what lay in the room with him. Along one side was a small pallet with a handful of dark fur that Vinsah had shed the night before. There was nothing else. Even if there was anything more, what could Felsah do with it? If he tried to defend himself in any way, would it matter? It would be in vain, that he knew. Resolutely, he turned his face back to the doorway. Outside, the greeting room was quiet. Through the window he saw the daylight fading quickly

His heart began to beat faster and he clenched his teeth tight in anguish. There was nothing more he could do now, except...

Felsah clasped his hands before him in prayer. “Abba, here I am. I try to do Thy will in all things. But I am afraid. Please, Abba, give me the courage of Thy Son Yahshua. Please...” his voice faded as he began to hear footsteps coming from the outer hallway. He had to suppress a sudden urge to find a place to hide. It took all of his self-composure to remain where he knelt.

His fingers laced together and held tight. Felsah bent his head low, solemn. His flesh trembled beneath the robe as another brush of cold air crossed his cheeks. The boots crossed into Jothay’s quarters. Felsah swallowed and let the placid mask of the Questioner fall across his face.

The boot stopped before him and the curtain was drawn aside. Beyond, the watchmen cried out the setting of the sun. Felsah barely heard him over the laboured beating of his heart. He wanted to look up, but could not make his chin nor his eyes move.

Quite suddenly, he wished that Madog, the automaton fox of Metamor, were here with him.

It had grown difficult for Sir Czestadt, Volka wie Stuth, and Knight Templar of the Driheli to think. Ever since the Magyar who denied being Kashin had struck him with that invisible blade, he’d felt a palpable presence inside his mind, throbbing softly in the background. At night it would sing to him in an alien voice, one that made his sleep restless and confused. His flesh still tingled where it had struck him, and now he could not imagine life without that constant thrum against his skin.

He had thought that no sword could be more unnatural than the one he’d nearly been slain by. But then Jothay had taken him down to that strange altar deep in the catacombs of Yesulam and he’d found something even more anomalous. It looked like a blade, gold in colour with a nine-sided hilt. But as soon as the Blademaster had attempted to touch it with his mind, he’d known it was not a sword at all, but something far different. Its crooning voice was even more hideous than the constant drumbeat from Kashin’s blade.

Czestadt had focussed his efforts on finding the Magyars, for it was all that had been left to him that he felt he could do faithfully. Yet they had escaped from him yet again. Normally, this would have upset him. But as he stood in Jothay’s quarters staring in confusion down at the black-robed Questioner who knelt in the monastic cell where he’d thought to find Vinsah, he felt nothing of that. There was one final thing Jothay had demanded of him, and now he could not even do that.

“Who are you?” Czestadt asked in an empty voice. Somewhere nearby he could feel the invisible blade. It was like a wall in his mind, preventing him from being able to think of anything beyond the small chamber. The golden artifact Jothay called a sword was also nearby. Perhaps already at the altar, along with that black Sondecki. An altar he had to go to. Jothay was expecting him.

The Questioner did not answer him and Czestadt had no patience for this. He could not wait long. “Where is Vinsah?”

But again the Questioner said nothing. Grunting, Czestadt bent down and gripped the man’s chin firmly between two fingers, forcing the priest to look up at him. “I asked you a question. Now tell me, where is Vinsah?”

The man impassively gazed at Czestadt. There was a subtle hint of fear in those dark eyes, but his lips remained firmly shut. Czestadt grunted and bent lower, his sword-tip dragging against the stone. “You know. I can see it in your eyes. Where is Vinsah?” The man licked his lips, but said nothing. Everything seemed to be pounding against Czestadt’s mind. His thoughts reverberated like a drumhead worn and ragged. Yet one thing remained certain; this insufferable priest would not deny him what he needed. He raised his hand and smacked him hard across the cheek. “Where is Vinsah?”

The Questioner swallowed and stared defiantly. Czestadt smacked him harder this time, sprawling him across the pallet. The knight did not wait for him to get back up before giving him a kick to the stomach. “Just answer the question. You know all about questions don’t you?”

The priest doubled up and winced at the kick, but still he kept his lips sealed. Czestadt kicked again, his teeth clenched tightly together. “Tell me, damnit! This is foolish!”

The priest looked up at him with both a measure of contempt and pity. It was the latter that infuriated the knight more. He was about to backhand him across the chin when the priest opened his lips. “No, I will not tell you where Vinsah is.”

“So you do know,” Czestadt said. The rage inside of him was becoming uncontrollable. He backhanded the man anyway, and then stepped over to where he fell. Blood began to well on his lips and cheek. “Tell me where he is!”

The priest rubbed the blood free with one hand, and then knelt with his hands held before him in prayer. Czestadt bellowed, his eyes filled with fury unchallenged. He drove his fist down against the man’s head until he fell to the ground. He continued to beat his fists over the man’s chest and sides. Bones began to snap under the assault and the priest finally cried out in anguish.

Czestadt slowed after several long seconds, his breath ragged, and the rage dissipating. Beneath him the priest lay there, tears standing in his dark eyes as he looked up at the man. One of his hands bore mangled fingers bent and twisted around. Blood was beginning to stain the black robe around his chest. “Where is he?” Czestadt asked, his voice hollow like a ghost’s.

But the priest shook his head. “I will not tell you.”

Czestadt stepped back, staring at the beaten and broken figure. His hands trembled, but this time no longer in rage. This was a priest of Eli. How could he be doing this?

Without another word, the knight swallowed heavily and turned from the cell. He marched into Jothay’s bedroom, pushed aside the curtains and pulled the hidden latch. The secret entrance opened and he quickly stepped through. He did not bother to shut it.

Czestadt’s hands continued to shake. All that waited below him was that horrible place and the sword which was not a sword. It sang for him, and he could feel it curdling his bones. If he were a lesser man he would have thrown up.

He was not a lesser man, but it still took all the willpower he had left to keep his last meal inside. The Knight Templar of the Driheli walked down the passage to the altar, his mind in a fog of confusion, pain, fear, and death.

Nemgas did not wait long before pushing the door open. Czestadt had only the one sword, but that was all he needed to be a formidable warrior. He had no desire to risk allowing that man to know he was being trailed.

“I must check on Felsah,” Akaleth insisted in a harsh whisper, even as Berkon and Kaspel drew their bows and gazed down the secret passage. Sir Petriz looked ill as he followed the Questioner to the cell. Nemgas stared at them but did not follow. He knew what they would find.

Akaleth did not care that the Magyars were impatient. He’d heard Felsah’s scream and had to see to his fellow Questioner. A lifetime of violence and torture prepared him for what was in the cell, but it still made his blood burn in his veins. Felsah was coughing blood as he attempted to pull himself with his one good hand onto the pallet. His dark eyes saw Akaleth, and he weakly tried to smile.

“He is going to the altar?” Felsah asked, blood dripping down his lips.

“Yes,” Akaleth agreed, kneeling down to help Felsah onto the pallet. Sir Petriz was behind him, his face white. “You have done well. Now rest here and Kehthaek will be back soon.”

Felsah’s smile was a sad one. “It will not matter will it? I’m going to die.”

Sir Petriz shook his head. “Nay. For you something done will be.”

Akaleth put a hand gently to Felsah’s chest and hummed softly. The smile faded from Felsah’s lips, but it returned a moment later. “You should not tarry here long, my friend. Leave me here. Stop this evil...” he coughed and spat up more blood.

“Yes,” Akaleth agreed. He wiped the blood from Felsah’s lips and frowned deeply. “Go with Eli, Father Felsah.”

“And you, Father Akaleth. Eli bless you.”

Sir Petriz swallowed and then stepped out to join the Magyars. Akaleth followed him, leaving the wounded Felsah alone in the cell. Akaleth knew the wound could be mortal, but there was nothing more he could do. He had no choice but to honour Felsah’s sacrifice and face this evil at last. He reached in his sleeve to grasp his whip, but found that it wasn’t there. He’d lost his whip when escaping from Zagrosek and the altar. His hands trembled, eager to feel the tough leather’s comforting texture. At long last, he let out a sigh and strode to where Nemgas waited.

“He hath not stopped to listen for us,” the Magyar reported. “Art thee finished here?”

Akaleth nodded. “Let us go. We must put an end to this now. I am ready.”

Nemgas nodded and drew an axe from across his back. Both swords remained at his sides untouched. The other Magyars also had weapons in their hands. Sir Petriz drew a pair of long daggers and nodded to Nemgas. “Ready I am.”

“Then we move, and move quietly. And quickly.” Nemgas disappeared into the tunnel, and one by one the Magyars followed him. Akaleth swallowed and stepped through, his hands curled tightly around his sleeves. He said one quiet prayer for Felsah.

The pain permeated every part of his body. His right hand was in constant agony; two of the fingers were broken and bent backwards, hanging limply across the back of his hand. In his chest he felt a dull stabbing ache every time he breathed. It was like sharp sticks were poking into his lungs. If he breathed a little more shallowly, maybe they wouldn’t stab him. But every time he tried that he felt light-headed. Felsah knew that if he passed out he would die before Kehthaek could come.

In fact, he probably would die anyway.

Some priests of the Ecclesia could heal with a touch. The skill was a gift of Eli and was to be cultivated by all who possessed it. But cultivated quietly, as in recent years some had called such healing works of magic and not miracles of Eli. It had come as a surprise to Felsah to learn that Akaleth possessed some talent in healing. The touch upon his chest had suffused him with a warm radiance for a brief moment. For a few seconds, the pain had been gone, and he’d felt some of his wounds mend.

But Akaleth was also unpractised, and what surcease he could offer was insufficient. He’d done all he could, and still Felsah knew his wounds were serious enough that he would likely be dead in another few hours.

Felsah didn’t want to die. But what could he do? He leaned back against the wall of the cell and looked heavenward. He did not speak for fear of having another coughing fit. He prayed in his mind, prayed with all his heart.

Abba, I am here. I do not wish to die. I feel there is so much I can still do for You. I... I faced that man. But I am scared. I have always tried to do what is right, but Abba, please, I am frightened by death. I know I should not be, but I am.

Shame filled him and he lowered his eyes, a single tear dampening his bloody cheek. All his life he had known that one day he would die, and on that day, Yahshua would bring him into Paradise where he would find eternal balm in the presence of his Abba – Eli. Yet now, where he may very well be on the cusp of that great journey, he was frightened. He was scared of what might come once the veil of darkness descended upon his mortal body.

When Felsah had realized that he needed to stay in Vinsah’s place, he knew it could mean his life. Yet he’d stayed anyway. He’d been brave enough to face death when it was an abstract concept. But now that it was yawning wide like the edge of a precipice before him, did he truly wish to undo it all? If Eli called him to Paradise, who was he to object?

Felsah let out his breath slowly and lifted his eyes.

If I must die, then I am trying to be ready. I am ready, Abba. If you are going to take me, then I am ready. I just wish... I wish I could have seen Madog one more time. It is silly, Father, that at a time like this I would think of him. Thank you for bringing our lives together, even if only for a little while. I do not understand all that You have planned. I am blessed to have been a part of it.

Abba, if it is my time to die, then I am ready. I wish I could have done better to serve Thee and thy Son, Yahshua. I wish...

The words could no longer come from his mind. Tears stood in his eyes and he lifted his left hand gingerly to wipe them free. His cheeks were bloodied, but the bleeding itself had stopped. His chest ached terribly. Slowly, he ran his fingers along the ribs, feeling where they had cracked. No wonder it hurt to breath, the shards of bone were pressing into his lungs.

His legs had not been hurt, and he used them to push himself into a better sitting position against the wall. The cell was quiet. The Magyars had left fifteen minutes ago now to follow Czestadt. Felsah thought on the Knight Templar and had to repress a shudder. The look in his eyes when he’d struck, it was one of complete madness. And then, when he’d left in a hurry, there had been something else in his eyes, something even worse.

Abba, why did it have to come to this? Your Ecclesia is suffering! Please let Akaleth and the others be successful. Please bring Thy aid and comfort. We need Thee now more than ever.

A soft rushing sound greeted his ears, and he felt the cool breeze wash over his torn cheeks. Felsah turned his head and stared dumbfounded at what sat before him glimmering like a sea of silver glass. Sitting upon its haunches was the strange automaton Madog, its fox-like head tilted to one side inquiringly. Behind it the shadows seemed to have been divided in two. Golden eyes looked at him with deep regard.

“Madog?” Felsah asked, his voice choked and his chest tightening in agony.

“Hello Father,” Madog replied in his simple tones. “Do you better understand Yahshua now?”

Felsah blinked once before he realized to what the mechanical fox referred. When he’d gone to Metamor earlier in the year, he had confessed that one of his favourite stories of Yahshua was when their Lord waited in the garden for the soldiers to come take him. The Son of Eli had been frightened then too.

Felsah began to cry anew, and he held out his mangled hand towards the creature. “Madog. How?”

The fox walked over and gently nudged his arm, being careful not to touch those broken fingers. With a delicacy that seemed unexpected from a machine, Madog began to rub his snout across Felsah’s arm and side. Not once did he cause the Questioner any pain. But Felsah continued to cry. He lifted his good hand and began to pet the metallic fox between the ears.

Neither spoke for several minutes. Nor did they have to. Madog’s presence warmed Felsah’s heart, banishing the last of his fear. His lips turned in a smile as his hand felt the warm silver skin. For a moment, he gazed heavenward. Thank you, Abba.

When he looked back at the fox, Madog was leaning back to sit on his haunches again. “Sorry I cannot heal you, Father. Those are bad wounds.”

Felsah nodded. “I know. It is all right.” He reached out with his left hand and curled his fingers around one of the triangular ears. “How did you get here?”

“I watch the bad man. I move like he moved.”

For a Questioner, the utter vagueness of the answer was galling. But this was Madog, and he knew that a precise answer would never come, because Madog could not say it more plainly. “How did you know to come to me, Madog?”

“She told me you needed help. So I came.”


Madog nodded. “She.”

“Who is she?”

Madog’s tail began to wag a bit. “She the one who let me come see you, Father.”

Felsah raised his eyebrows a bit, and then grunted as the pain in his chest became more pronounced. He must be bleeding inside. It would not be much longer now. “Why did you come, Madog? Why me?”

Madog looked up at him with such innocent blue eyes. It was as if the very question had been a complete surprise. “You are a good man, Father. I like you.”

Even if he had wanted to, he could not have held back the smile that came to his face. He leaned forward and tried his best to hug the automaton around the neck. “I like you too, Madog.” The pain was too great and he fell back against the wall a second later. He took several shallow breaths until the lancing agony had dulled, and then smiled again. “You are a true friend.”

Madog wagged his tail and panted a moment, and then he stopped. His ears and tail stretched, eyes alert as he turned to look at the doorway. Felsah stared out, and then heard the secret passage open. A moment later, a very worn Father Kehthaek emerged. He came over to the door and stopped. At first, the Questioner mask that Kehthaek bore held firm, concealing all trace of surprise or horror. And then his jaw began to drop and he stared fixedly at the automaton.

“How?” he asked, before catching himself and kneeling next to Felsah. “These wounds are deep. Where does it hurt?”

“My chest and my hand,” Felsah replied. “I think some of my ribs are broken.”

“I see you have coughed up some blood, but it looks like that has stopped. They probably didn’t puncture your lungs.”

Felsah smiled. “Akaleth healed me a little.”

“Ah, that would explain that,” Kehthaek narrowed his eyes as he ran his fingers along Felsah’s chest gingerly, feeling for the breaks.

“Can you make it safe for him to move?” Madog asked, blue eyes fixed upon the elder Questioner. “I have to take him back to Metamor.”

It was Felsah’s turn to stare at the fox dumbfounded. “Metamor? But... but why?”

“To make you well,” Madog replied, as if it had been obvious all along.

Kehthaek continued exploring Felsah’s chest. “I cannot mend your bones,” he admitted at last. “The breaks are not clean. I think the bone has been completely shattered in a few places. Even with my help I could not save your life.” Kehthaek stopped and looked him in the eye. “Did it work?”

Felsah nodded, sighing at last. “I am ready to die if I must. I know Yahshua is with me.” And this time, he knew it to be true. He wasn’t afraid anymore.

Kehthaek smiled and pressed his hands firmly against his fellow Questioner’s chest. “Stay still.” Under his breath he began to murmur the words of prayer. Madog stood up and wagged his tail, poking his nose over Felsah’s arm to watch. Felsah felt a pleasant warmth spread through his chest. Some of the pain left him, but not all. He could still feel something stabbing him like a knife. And his hand remained a bloody mess.

Kehthaek lowered his eyes. “That is all I can do, Father. Madog, if you can take him to Metamor before his life should end, then please do so. I need Father Felsah to heal the Ecclesia. Please bring him back to me whole.”

Madog took a few steps back and yipped. “Felsah be safe with me. I can take him to Metamor real fast. Zoom zoom!”

“Oh?” Kehthaek said, leaning back. “Then why did you not come for Vinsah as well? I just put him on a ship bound for Metamor. He needed to be saved just as much.”

Madog wagged his tail impatiently and began to whine. “She will save him. But I have to take Father Felsah back now, Father. Please?”

Kehthaek looked down at Felsah, the lines of his face drawn taut. “Well, are you ready? You know what may happen to you if you go to Metamor.”

Felsah closed his eyes for but a moment as he thought on that remarkable city set amidst white-capped mountains in a lush green valley. Such a strange people where many were part man and animal, where some adults appeared as children, and where women could take up arms without shaming their family’s name. It would be nice to see Metamor again.

And what if the curses changed his body while he was healed? Felsah began to smile. He had been ready to die; surely he would not complain if Eli transformed him instead. “I know. I am ready. Madog, take me back to Metamor.”

Madog yipped in delight, and nosed Kehthaek back. The startled Questioner got to his feet and backed out of the room. The mechanical fox stood above Felsah, lifting his head so that all of Felsah’s body was cast into shadow. A strange tingling sensation came over the priest’s battered body, and then all light passed away. He felt himself slipping into a strange sleep. Somewhere he could see himself standing with that fox barking and yipping and dancing around his legs. He laughed.

Kehthaek watched both Madog and Felsah disappear before his very eyes. Quietly, he prayed for their safety. He had no idea how Madog had done what he had done, but he had no doubt that he was a friend. All that remained of his fellow Questioner were a few smeared blood stains on the pallet and stone floor.

He took a moment to draw the mask over his face, tightening his lips and deadening his eyes. With measured grace he glided into Jothay’s bedroom and stared at the desk. There was nothing on top of it, but there were a few drawers. He opened one and found several letters. Correspondence between Jothay and his fellow conspirators perhaps? Blackmail? Or perhaps it was legitimate priestly business. Either way, Kehthaek would know very soon.

Settling down into the chair, he began to read.

The raccoon who had up until that afternoon been a Bishop of the Ecclesia sat in one corner of the dark cargo hold of the Sondesharan vessel. They had cast off their moorings only a few minutes ago and were steadily making their way into the Yurdon’s southward current. After his time on board the Pyralian ship, the rocking of the floor felt vaguely familiar.

It was ironic. In all his mentor’s long years, Akabaieth almost never set foot upon a ship let alone went sailing, yet it was what he desired above all else. Vinsah bore no love for boats, yet now his very life depended upon hiding in this one as it set sail for the very land that saw his master’s demise – Metamor Keep.

He sat sprawled with his tail tucked behind one paw-like foot. Vinsah’s green eyes stared forlornly at what lay on the wooden planks in a ungrateful heap. Piled together haphazardly were the shattered remnants of his yew. Akabaieth had given him that yew when investing him as the Bishop of Abaef sixteen years ago. He’d worn it every day of his life since then, apart from the day he’d allowed Murikeer the skunk to place an illusion upon it.

Vinsah swallowed back the sob that yearned to escape his throat. His Lady, the Lady that had come to him so often since he’d gone to Metamor, had told him that he would need to go with the skunk one day. And he had. On his second day out from Metamor, two human strangers had come upon his meagre camp seeking the pleasurable warmth of his fire. To Vinsah’s surprise, they were both Keepers bearing powerful illusions which hid their bestial feature to make them appear human.

They revealed themselves as Murikeer and Malger, two Keepers, neither of whom shared his faith. Murikeer was Lothanasi, and a mage as well. Malger was a Moranasi, a worshipper of Nocturna, the goddess of dreams and nightmares. He was also a letcher, though Vinsah had been grateful never to have seen that side of him while they journeyed. Those few months they shared on the road together had been pleasant, almost idyllic now in his mind.

And they had brought him here to Yesulam and to this shattered yew. Vinsah pushed his finger into the pile, spreading the pieces around. He ground his teeth together to keep from sobbing as he moved one piece against another. Some fit snug, others did not. The silver inlay was so badly twisted that he could not fit anything against it.

Vinsah wished he could take back the day. He wished he could have stayed with Malger or Muri out west. Was there anything left for him now? He’d spent all of his youth wanting to serve the Ecclesia. And for over thirty years he had been a priest; fifteen years as a parish priest, and fifteen more as the Bishop of Abaef. And he had often heard whispers that when Akabaieth died, he would become the new Patriarch.

Now it was all gone. Excommunicated. He could never again set foot inside an Ecclesia chapel; not even the one at Metamor. Bitterly, he snorted. Father Hough would let him in, but that would be a worse sin. He could never let Father Hough commit a sin of disobedience. Tears fell from his eyes and dampened the fur of his cheeks.

But what could he do? He pushed more of the pieces together. It almost looked like his yew, but it was distorted, with jagged edges sticking out from every angle. He unclenched his jaws and let out a sob. The groaning of the walls swallowed his voice. Vinsah pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He buried his snout there in the fur and wept.

“Why?” he cried, his voice a rasp. “Why, Eli? Why have You cast out Your servant?”

He thought of his Lady. She had always assured him all would be well. She had stilled all his doubts with her patience assurance. Her smile and soft voice had been enough to calm his troubled spirit at the worst of times. Yet all was not well. His life was ended. “My Lady, why?” He cried, lifting one hand in supplication to the heavens. All he saw was dark wood above him. “Why did this happen? Why?”

When several minutes had passed and he’d not even felt a glimmer of her presence in his mind, the raccoon let his eyes fall back to the pieces of yew on the ground. In a small voice he murmured, “What am I supposed to do?”

The ship rocked suddenly to one side and Vinsah fell backwards on his tail. His belongings, which he’d stowed on a crate to one side, came crashing down. His yew scattered across the floor. Vinsah gave out a cry, heart pounding in fear, and scurried on all fours like a beast after the pieces. He had only one lamp, and the superior vision of the raccoon to guide him. Within only a few minutes, he had found every piece and clutched them tightly in his paws. With his heart calming again, he returned to his things.

Akabaieth’s journal had fallen from his pack and stood open. His eyes traced the words on the page and he felt a deeper sickness clench in his belly. Unable to look away, he read a passage that brought back more memories than anything else he had yet seen in his mentor’s writings.

10 September 701 Cristos Reckoning

The most difficult task in all the world is to console a friend who has just lost a loved one. Though I have been a priest for many years, it has never grown easier, and it shouldn’t. We are Followers of Eli, and it is our belief that those who die in the grace of Yahshua will be brought to Paradise. Yet how in the face of such loss can we see this truth and take hope in it? Only with time and wisdom do we heal.

And that is how it is now with my friend, Bishop Vinsah. His elder brother, Drasah, has passed away. Consumption plagued him for months before the end came. Vinsah has been at his side every day except when his responsibilities required him elsewhere. I wish that I could have been at my friend’s side. Drasah was the only family that Vinsah had left, and now he is all that remains of his family.

I have heard it said that priests do not hold their family ties important. This is ridiculous. Though we do not marry, we still love our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. And I know Vinsah loved Drasah deeply. After the funeral, he told me a great many stories of their youth. I will not repeat them here, for they are too numerous to recount on these simple pages.

But what we must all remember that in those times of our greatest loss, Eli is there with us. No barrier can keep us from His love. We can curse him, but He will still love us. We can be denied all the graces His Son bought for us upon the Yew, and He still loves us and calls to us. If this is true, then when a love one has been lost to us, how could we believe that Eli is not there with us?

Vinsah’s paws trembled as he held the journal open. In the year following Drasah’s death, he had thought of him nearly every day. He still said short prayers for his brother, but they never held the same sting. Drasah had been an old man and had lived a full life. The pain of his death had been healed.

But the raccoon could not help but realize the words Akabaieth had written then were still true now. Vinsah wished he could feel that truth, but all that lay in his heart was the desolation of his excommunication. All that he had in possessions was a shattered yew, and this diary of his mentor.

Slowly, gingerly, he turned the page to read what else Akabaieth had to say. With each new passage, he gradually settled into the steady rocking of the vessel as it sailed down the Yurdon and away from his old home.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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