Posted on March 4, 2005 by Monica Valentinelli
Continuing the tale set in the world of Conspiracy of Shadows
Written by Monica Valentinelli
“What does it say, Father Clemens?” asked a young acolyte to the wizened priest.
The middle-aged priest looked carefully around the room, for explaining prophecy to youth was like expressing nature into words to young children. At least his following was here, just outside Alcona at the foot of the Boreni Mountains. It was fortunate they were not wandering off, trying to profess their faith to those who would not listen. Instead they were here, under his gaze, believing Albin granted him the tools to enable them to know things men shouldn’t.
The priest glanced at the scrying bowl and waited. He had no use for “tools” to prophesy, he could lie well enough without them. It was a lie covering up another lie. Albin didn’t grant him the gift of prophecy, nor did He grant him his other special abilities. His supposed fortune-telling was a harmless lie covering up an unfortunate truth, that he had the Witchblood. Now that everyone surrounded him believed he was touched by Albin, if they saw him using his other abilities he could simply claim Albin has gifted him again. If these young folk knew the truth…
Father Clemens stretched out his arms, wondering if they were strong enough to carry him to the hell he felt destined to join one day. Looking up and closing his eyes, he could almost feel Albin’s warmth reassuring him that redemption, his redemption, was possible.
“Father Clemens?” an acolyte asked, jerking him awake from the guilt overtaking him.
“Yes, well it says what it always says. A woman will purify the great evil, all shall be saved.”
Father Clemens wished he could tell them the truth, that his prophecies have never bourne fruit. It was a game he was compelled to play.
“Is she coming?” another acolyte asked. “Is the woman coming here?”
He turned his head, as if to listen to the wind. Someone was coming, but he wasn’t sure who.
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. She will only show herself if we are worthy enough.”
“Worthy enough for what?”
“For her blood sacrifice.” His voice trailed off, his mind drifting in a sea of possible futures. Luckily, a knock at the makeshift door saved him from his thoughts.
“Father Clemens?” a portly man shoved his way through the door. This man was older than he, and had many more years in the faith.
“Yes, Father Quinton?”
“You may relieve your acolytes for the day.”
Without a word, the bald-headed youths fresh and full of their faith scurried to their chores.
When the last acolyte left, Father Quinton threw Father Clemens a brief smile through his hooded face. “You know why I am here.”
“Yes, I do.”
Father Quinton waddled to a corner of the room where he carefully plopped himself down on the floor. He untied his cloak and set it next to him. Like the rest of the “church” there were no worldly comforts to remind the clergy of their former, sinful ways. It was, however, uncomfortable at times–especially when entertaining guests not belonging to this humbling Amdati Church. At times it was as if they pursued their lives with a zeal for simplicity. Only, politics never made for a “simple” encounter.
How much should he tell his student? Tell him enough of the truth and he will see an ill-fated tapestry woven to its completion. Tell him nothing of the truth, and he will believe his strand in the weave is more important than any other.
“Did you find him then, this Malik?”
Father Clemens wished Albin had granted him the gift of second sight. As it were, he did not feel as if he were in control. Everywhere he turned, the Church imprisoned his actions with iron shackles and rusted nails. How was he to redeem himself if the Church prevented him from fulfilling his priestly obligations?
“Malik was perfect for the task. Just as you had suggested.”
“Why is that?” Father Quinton had a penchant for undue flattery.
“He is young and inexperienced. Although he is becoming very skilled with the sword and horse. One day he will be feared, but first he must earn the people’s respect.”
“Go on, my student.”
“He knows of our plight. I told Malik that we need a simple woman to believe she is fulfilling a prophecy in order for a great evil to remain sleep—”
“—did you tell him where we would take this woman?”
“No, Father Quinton. I only told him the first part of our plan. Malik believes we will pretend to sacrifice the woman here, near Alcona. That we are staging harmless rituals to appease the villagers still fervent in their passion for the Old ways.”
Father Quinton’s belly laughed. “So that was why he went in search of an outsider. That was clever of you, Clemens. Very clever.”
“But not wise, Father, to lie to a bahadur with ties to the royal court. One day he will find the truth.”
“As my student you must remember that youth breeds carelessness. Who said Malik will survive this encounter? Or the woman for that matter?”
Father Clemens expected that there was more to this false sacrifice even than he believed. If their plan meant that the Church will kill an innocent, two innocents, for the preservation of their faith…
“Are you proposing murder?” he asked, emboldened. If his teacher could not offer him a shard of truth, then he might as well convert to another Church.
“I am not suggesting anything.” Father Quinton paused long enough to catch his heavy breath. “What do your prophecies tell you?”
“Not enough. Certainly not enough about a lie to enrich Amdati Church coffers.” He did not mean to, but his voice rose high enough to echo off the wood rafters.
Father Quinton turned quickly from a well-traveled priest to a hardened hunter. “I have two reasons. One, the secret I am keeping for you. And two, the secret I am keeping from you.”
“And what would that be? That you believe the Cask exists?”
Father Clemens felt his skin grow cold as his mentor gave him a leprous look.
“You may have outgrown MY teachings, but that does not give you the right to blapheme! Do you not remember that the reason why we are in this war of morality is because an innocent came to us in his time of need?”
Throwing his arms around him for warmth, Father Clemens struggled to keep his voice to a whisper.
“If the Cask does exist, then it would do more harm than good to keep its existence hidden.”
Father Quinton did the one thing he did not expect him to do, he sighed heavily as if the entire Church was built upon on his broad shoulders.
“There are things that have come to pass, Father, that only need to be named before striking fear into the breast of even the most weathered warrior. But that is not what this is about.”
“No? Then perhaps I shall tell you what I see in my prophecies.” It was Father Clemens turn to tell a lie. “I see an Archbishop failing on his throne, who asks his advisors how to bring the sheep back into the fold. I see a ploy involving withered legends, the rosy hue of youth, and a hero.”
“I never knew you were a romantic, Father Clemens,” he laughed, as if he had no worldly cares.
“Romantic? The stuff of nightmares is anything but romantic. I see peasants and royalty stand side by my side in fear, wondering who will save them as seasoned warriors fall before the hunger of the thing we release into the world…”
“Careful Father Clemens, you can not walk upon the water.”
“…As the need for worship increases, the Amdati Church opens wide her doors welcoming all regardless of class. The coffers fill, the evil subsides. The faith is renewed.”
Father Quinton rose from the floor. He reached a hand into his tunic and patted something strapped carefully on his waist.
“While I never did believe that someone with your past would have been graced by Albin, I regret to inform you that you have finally earned your title of prophet. ”
Father Clemens looked at his teacher with a knowing smile.
“And I regret, Father, that you may not live to see your dark dream unfold.”
For more information on Conspiracy of Shadows vist the Bob Goat Press Website.