Chapter XII: The Coin

It took a month for life in the Chapel to become normal, or at least, understandable for Henry. It was a place, much like the workshop back in Umberlyn, that thrived on routine and order. Fumbling his way through all of it, Henry eventually understood the way things worked and where he was needed in the process. It only took a few weeks before people started pulling him out of his own basic routine and handing him responsibilities.

The morning started well before dawn with what they called Preparation. It was the multitude of tasks that needed to happen to put the Chapel in order. Though there was a skeleton crew of trained physickers that worked the night, the Chapel was relatively empty unless someone truly needed help. So, the Chapel was cleaned, the tile floors were mopped, and towels were rolled and stacked. If you weren’t cleaning, then you were most likely part of the Furnace Crew or Kitchen Crew who helped stoke the flames that kept the waters warm or stacked the wood needed. The Kitchen Crew scrubbed and cleaned, cleared the pantry, and prepped the meals for the day. Henry found himself in the Furnace Crew, taking the stairs down into the bowels of the Chapel where the heat was atrocious and the labor was intense. He stacked wood that was brought to the Chapel every day by woodcutters looking to make a profit off the Faithful.

When the sun rose over the rooftops of Trennon, then Preparation concluded with Morning Sanctity and Benedictions, where they all clamored into the Sanctuary and listened to Bishop Albert preach about compassion and love for those in need. Henry hung on every word that he said, not because he believed it, but because he would quote the Chants or the Scriptures, which Firat was making him memorize and learn to read. It was a way to study outside of his little chamber.

Once the sermons were over, hymns were sang, and a chant was recited, releasing them to break their fast in the hall. Glenda and the other trained physickers took their meals early so that they could assist those who started streaming in, looking for relief in the waters or were in need of free medical care. Henry and the others filled their trenchers and gorged on the meal cranky Gaullie slaved over during Preparations.

After their meals, the Initiates were sent to their chambers for Contemplation, a time that was divisive among the Initiates. There were Initiates like Hubert who spent the time sleeping or working on something they were not supposed to, but Father Borden never checked, so they got away with it. The other party, headed by the holier-than-thou Klaus, spent the time whispering prayers and reciting the Chants that they would soon be taking to the city. These were the truly Faithful and Henry found himself belonging to neither.

It was the first week when Henry tried sneaking out to meet Brother Firat at the Father Borden caught him and lectured him on his lack of holy introspection, sending him to his chambers until he heard the ninth bell. So, Henry had made a habit of going to his chamber after breakfast and trying to refresh his mind on what Firat had beaten into him the day before.

That was when he heard the shouts from Watch Sergeant Monra through his window and Henry began to unknown study of the Watch’s training methods. Every morning, the Watch adhered to an understandably strict routine of fitness training and then weapons training. Henry, was pleased to see that Watch Sergeant Monra liked to keep things new and thorough. When he trained them with the staff or truncheon, he was overly thorough, running through it again and again as twenty green recruits watched with the same interest the Initiates had during Benedictions. But Henry, he watched with ravenous eyes.

It took less than a day for Henry to smuggle a stick into his room so that he could train along with them. His room was just large enough for him to run through their drills with them until he heard the bell to set them loose for Labors. On days where Monra didn’t run through drills, Henry would do pushups, or pullups on the beams that ran over his room. He would do the crunches and the squats, the exercises that he could without the heavy stone weights that they would use or the enormous planks they’d drag. So, when the bell would chime, Henry would be released to Firat, tired, exhausted, and sweating; but he felt better than he had ever before.

Firat would teach Henry for most of the day, pressing Henry’s limits and punishing Henry when he found them. But while the other, younger Initiates giggled and laughed at Henry’s failings, he would steady himself and go for it again. Henry would not give up and he would not let laughter or the pain in his knuckles get to him. His tenacity drew him the attention and admiration of Firat who seemed to take a liking to Henry.

“I have something for you,” Firat said after one of their lessons. Henry had been nursing his bloody knuckles, wrapping them in the cloth that Glenda had given him. Firat picked up a book and handed it to Henry. The binding was ancient and the cover of the book was written in a flowing, elegant script. “Can you read the title?”

“Book…of… something, tales?” Henry stumbled through the words.

“Book of Children’s Tales,” Firat nodded with a warm smile. “You may keep it until you can read them all. Practice when you can, Initiate.”

“Thank you,” Henry said, clutching the book dearly. He had contemplated stealing one of the Scriptures or the Holy Tome from the Sanctuary. But this, this was a gift that he had never thought possible. “I’ll return it to you when I can read them all.”

“You will first read me the whole book,” Firat said. “Then I will take it back.”

Henry had marched home beaming through the streets of Trennon, smiling and nodding to everyone who offered him greetings and blessings. It was the first time that Henry bothered offering them blessings and greetings back.

Once he returned, Henry at in the hall with the rest of the Chapel’s members after Bishop Albert led them in a Chant and Blessing. He and the rest of the higher members always took their meals in their chambers, away from the others. Henry, took his meals in the same spot every time he was forced into the hall to eat. During the morning, the hall was considerably emptier, but in the evening for the larger meal, it was full of members of the order. The elder members who were ancient and silent ate around him, their silent company a shield against the others.

Once their dinner meal was concluded, Henry and the others would sit through the Nocturne, which was the final sermon that Bishop Albert preached. There were usually members of the city would join the in the benches. Henry and the other lay Initiates would stand in the back, listening to his sermon. Henry always found this to be the hardest part of the day, where he felt eager to get back to his chamber and read.

When Nocturne had concluded, they had their Final Tasks to complete, which Henry was charged with sweeping the Sanctuary. He took his time, reciting what he could recall from the Scriptures and the Chants under his breath while he swept. He spent most of his time alone, but he didn’t complain. There was plenty to be done and he was on a mission. Henry found himself completely pleased with his life and his opportunities at the moment.

But sleep remained the only thing that Henry could not find regularly. His dreams were haunted and tormented by nightmares, visions of his family being lost and slain. On Fenday, Henry would walk down to the boards by the gates to look for his family’s names, hoping that he would find their names. He had memorized the letters as soon as Firat had shown him how to spell their names. But, the weather took its toll on the parchments and the less than happy citizens of Trennon also took their toll, ripping down the parchment lists.

Henry awoke, on the first month anniversary of him being brought to the Chapel, Henry went through his routine. Monra didn’t assemble the recruits this morning and Henry spent his Contemplation time doing pushups and punching his heavy robe, bundled into a tight ball, feeling the sting of the cloth against his raw knuckles. He whittled his time away until he could break to meet with Firat.

When release came, Henry dressed and raced through the streets of Trennon, rushing past couriers and workers, avoiding those strolling the streets and reuniting with old friends. He broke into a sprint and raced to the building that was crawling with the Bernardine monks. Some of them were smoking pipes outside the great doors to the Archives, laughing and discussing literature that they had been exploring. Henry knew very little of the green and black order, other than they were vehemently hated by Hubert.

Inside the dusty corridors, Henry anxiously made his way to the nook that Firat called his own. He arrived and found that he was the first one there, something that never happened. There was no writing on the board, no Firat scratching with chalk, no other pupils fearfully waiting for their quizzes, and there was no switch, waiting to be used. Henry hoped that he would be tested on the book, that Firat might see what Henry had read. He was ready to impress. He was ready to make the others, who liked to snicker and giggle at him, see just how much he had learned.

As the minutes slipped by, Henry noticed that he was alone longer than Firat would have allowed. Firat was never late and the neither were the students. Henry looked around and waited for a moment, drumming his fingers on the top of the desk.

“Expecting someone?” A man asked Henry.

He turned around and looked at the Bernardine monk who was looking at the shelves that surrounded Firat’s little nook. He looked at Henry and then back at the books. “Brother Marsha said Firat has a fever, that he’s taken to bed for the day. Didn’t your other pupils tell you?”

No, Henry thought, smoldering with anger. Of course they didn’t, but then again, Henry never spoke to them. He smacked the flat of his hands against the top of the desk and stood up, taking his book of children’s tales with him as he stormed out of the Archives. Part of him had wanted to stay, but not after the Bernardine had seen him sitting there, waiting like a stooge for a teacher that wasn’t going to show. Henry fumed out into the street, letting the flow of the people in front of him carry him through Trennon.

He thought about leaving, just then. He thought about striking out with the information that he had and going on the road. There was no word of the Woodlanders or Vark raiders. He had heard nothing about any of that in the month that had passed. Everything that he had studied from afar, studying Morna seemed applicable and he was confident that he could handle himself in a tight situation, or maybe a solid beating would be a better teacher for him, like Percy had always told him. Either way, he was wasting his time at the Chapel. He had hoped that he would become friends with Hubert or maybe impress Tyla, but every day there were rumors of Umberlyn refugees—no, Bog Rats, that’s what his people were called now. There were stories of them being beaten by mobs or thrown in stocks by the Watch. It was too risky to be open with who he was.

He could search for the Forlorn Centurions. How hard would it be to find an ancient order of immortal warriors? He could find them. That seemed like something that he should be able to ask around about and get directions.

But Henry had nothing to his name. He didn’t even have a knife or a water skin, two of the basics for taking to the road. He didn’t have a blanket or a change of clothes. He didn’t have food.

Nope, he was stuck here. He was stuck here until he had the things that he needed to survive.

Henry smacked hard into someone and blinked, stumbling backwards. It was like running into a Chevaini Horse, all muscle and brawn, a wall of meat that refused to budge. He slammed into his butt on the cobbles and knocked people back. He shuddered and blinked looking at the man who was in front of him that he had slammed into.

The man he had hit looked as if he had blown into Trennon on the wind. The dust of a thousand cities caked to his ancient boots and clinging to his tattered robe that billowed around him like a thick smoke. The man’s hood was up, but when he turned, Henry felt like he was looking at the face of a third moon, unknown and lurking in the sky, gazing down on him with ominous intent. The man’s shirt was holly and torn, his skin banded and painted with tattoos that Henry barely saw, because his eyes moved back to that face, back to the pale features of a clean shaven face and hair as dark as ink. But his eyes, those were what haunted Henry, what kept Henry locked on the ground, staring at him with ice in his veins.

Henry did not pride himself with having seen horrors, with having seen things that were unnatural and cruel, but this man, he was something that did not register in his mind as anything that Henry should be seeing. His mind flashed with images of the Elethyn in his children’s tales, of the Vark that he had slain, and of things grandparents spun before bedtime in the minds of children that mothers swept away in daylight. The man’s eyes, onyx mirrors reflecting back at Henry in the deep void, stared at Henry, filling him with pure, untainted dread that seeped through Henry like fire through ice.

“I assumed as much,” the Man’s voice was as chilling as a tundra wind from lands far away. Henry thought he could hear whispers in his mind, crawling around his thoughts like spiders, echoing the man’s words as he knelt before Henry, moving in the most fluid and unnatural way. “You can see me, can’t you?”

Henry swallowed, too afraid to answer this man who stood in the light of day but clearly belonged in the dead of night where hours were lost and fear stalked the distant woods, drawing closer until you were certain that if you didn’t fall asleep beneath your covers, it would find you.

“I can see you, Henry,” the Man’s voice taunted him. “You are a curious thing, aren’t you?”

The man reached into the black folds of his cloak as people passed him, not a single one of them turning and looking at him. Henry prayed that the Watch would come, that Tyla would appear, that Hubert or even that vile Brogan would show up. But no one appeared to save him. Henry was alone in the world with this being that Henry didn’t want to be with. The man’s eyes were blackness, bleeding smoke as he stared at Henry, but there was interest. It was the way the pale skin of his eyelids formed around the shadows of his eyes that told Henry as much.

The man’s long fingers withdrew a single coin, golden, but dull in the light of day, as if it had travelled Illythia for hundreds of years. The intricate stamping of the metal was caked with dirt and dust, junk for a collector’s den. The man held it up so the coin eclipsed his left eye and Henry could see the marking of a foot at the center of the coin, intricate patterns circling and surrounding it, all the way to the coin’s barbed edges.

“I’ve been watching you,” the Man hissed.

Deep inside Henry, the words found fire, igniting and ripping up through the veins in his dry, stony throat until hot air hissed over his parched tongue and through his teeth. “What do you want?” Henry asked.

The man’s thin, purple lips curled at the edges and delight burned in the man’s eyelids as they formed around the glorious, dark joy that made Henry more terrified than the man’s presence in itself.

“A token for your time,” the Man handed the coin to Henry, but Henry’s hands were too busy propping him up. The Man placed the coin on Henry’s chest and left it there, his fingers forming frost on Henry’s cloak, though they never touched him, not that this made any more sense to Henry.

Henry’s eyes looked down at the coin as the fingers withdrew, ghostly and slowly while Henry’s eye fused to the image of the foot. He had never seen a coin like this, a coin that had such a weight to it. Henry swore that it was no coin, but he didn’t know. It could be from Malon for all he knew or the Scattered Cities. Maybe it was Elethyn money from Vandruil. Not that it mattered. It looked as if it was made of solid gold, but that couldn’t be right. Gold bent and was far too precious to be used on a coin. He looked up, hoping to understand why he was paralyzed with fear and was being rewarded for being so terrified.

His eyes searched for the Man before him, but all that was waiting for him were the legs of dozens of people passing through the market. Henry felt his body go numb and the burning ache of his muscles swell around his bones. He reached up and clutched the coin, feeling the cold of the coin seeping through his hand. The air scorched his lungs and his eyes felt gritty with sand, welling with tears as he squeezed the coin.

What just happened? He thought, staring until someone finally kicked him in the side.

Henry turned and saw the strawberry blonde woman from the Watch looking at him. “On your feet, Initiate,” she said with a voice that was stern, but had a hint of kindness to it. “No loitering in the road.”

“Sorry,” Henry said. “I fell.”

“I saw,” the woman said, “a while ago.”

Henry blinked as he clamored to his feet. “Did you see the man?” Henry asked.

“What man?” the woman furrowed her brow. “Initiate, are you feeling well? Do you need me to escort you back to the Chapel?”

“No,” Henry shook his head. “I’m fine.”

“Very well,” the woman turned from Henry. “As you were, then.”

“Thank you,” Henry said nervously.

“What’s your name?” The woman turned back toward him.

“Henry,” he answered.

“Stay safe, Henry,” she said to him. “You have a look about you.”

Henry didn’t know what that meant. He watched her walk back to the post that was painted green at the side of the street that wrapped around the market. It was the guard post where three other members of the Watch were lingering, leaning against stalls and chatting. Henry watched her as she looked over her shoulder at him one more time before returning. She had freckles all across her nose and bright green eyes. She was older than he was, maybe sixteen or seventeen, but she looked stronger than most of the boys he knew. There was very little that was feminine about her, but there was a kind of beautiful strength to her.

Suddenly, it dawned on Henry.

He turned thirteen today.


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