Chapter XIII: The Stand

For days, Henry left the coin in his room, horrified of it, too fearful to touch it. He didn’t want to think about his encounter with the man whose eyes wept smoke and whose skin was as pale as spider silk. But, at the same time, it was all that he could think of. Even in the calm of his mind, where only peaceful, tranquil waters sat, the man would rear his head from the depths, gazing through Henry’s mind.

The coin had travelled from behind Henry’s bed, slipped into a slot where the mortar had chipped away, leaving a cleft large enough for the coin to be hidden and forgotten. But as the days passed, Henry couldn’t sleep. When he read, the sentences shattered and the coin spun at the heart of his mind. So the coin found a new home, under Henry’s roll that he slept on, close enough for him to fetch and look at in the pale moonlight. He would even wake in the middle of the night, when he finally did steal a few hours of sleep to find the coin resting in his sweaty palm.

Eventually, after weeks of resisting the urge, Henry pocketed the coin and took it with him as he went about his duties. While Henry ate in his isolation, he would feel the weight of the coin inside his robes and his thoughts circled it.

Where did it come from? Who or what had the man been? Why was he only visible to Henry? Where had he gone off to? But what Henry couldn’t help but wonder was, would he see him again?

Part of him felt lucky to have escaped unscathed and that keeping mostly silent had been the wise and sensible thing to have done. But, there was part of his mind that spurned him and chided him endlessly, demanding to know why he wouldn’t ask more questions. Why wouldn’t he try to understand what was happening? Why be silent before something clearly unnatural and coherent?

While he spent most of his days in the Archives, wondering if there were books hidden in the depths of the shelves that might tell him more about the mysterious man who had given him the coin, today, Henry wasn’t given the chance.

“Henry,” Firat said, still suffering from a pale complexion and a sweat that would not leave him. He waved Henry toward him where another Initiate, older than Hubert even, stood with his arms crossed. The man had dusky skin and hair as dark as Firat’s. His eyes focused heavily on Henry as he approached him. “Henry, it is time for you to divide your time. Today, you will follow Sotiris on his Chant today. You have memorized the Chant of Compassion and today, you will watch it in action.”

“Yes, Brother Firat,” Henry bowed respectfully. He looked at Sotiris who studied Henry still with an unimpressed expression written in his eyes. “I am eager to learn.”

“Truer words have never been said by an Initiate in my class,” Firat chuckled. “Sotiris, take special care with him.”

“As you say,” Sotiris muttered. “Come with me, Initiate.”

Henry followed Sotiris out of the nook that Firat had called his own and wound through the towering bookshelves, between those who were lingering and staring at the shelves and the finds that they had discovered. Sotiris did not so much as turn, his narrow frame nimbly picking its way through the masses of people who blocked his way. Henry kept up with him, feeling the weight of the coin brushing against him. Sotiris glided over the threshold of the Archives, avoiding a man carrying a stack of rolled charts and maps who Henry saved himself from narrowly ramming into the man.

Outside, the midday sun hung high in the air and bathed the city in a warm glow that Henry found slightly alluring. He felt like a cat, ready to stretch out and bask in the warmth. As he looked around at the whole city that felt the same way, people strolling slowly, and shop keepers being less abrasive in their pitches, Sotiris had stopped and turned upon him.

“You are not here to learn sums or the useful arts that Firat studied in Tyrantium, correct?” Sotiris asked. His voice was harsh and booming, the kind of voice that could command the gale and the squall.

“Not really,” Henry shrugged. “I’m just learning to read.”

Sotiris studied Henry for a moment and looked around at the others who lingered outside of the Archives, enjoying the warmth of the weather. “Do you know how the Chapel stays open and with food in your belly?” Sotiris asked. Before Henry could conjure up a response or even think of what he might say, Sotiris answered for him. “Nobles pay us for their children to be educated and kept out of trouble. All of those children in there and those studying under the other Brothers, are paying for your food. If you’re in there, taking up Firat’s time, then their parents are less inclined to pay for our services.”

“I thought we survived on offerings and medical services,” Henry furrowed his brow.

Sotiris guffawed and shook his head as if he’d just heard the best joke of the day. “You have a lot to learn. Come along, you’re my shadow for the coming months, but have no illusions about this. You’re only here to free up Firat’s time. He’s become unusually fond of you and Firate is never fond of his students.”

Henry didn’t know whether he should take pride in that or be insulted that he was being dragged along behind Sotiris just to put Firat’s mind at ease. Ultimately, this proved to be another waste of Henry’s time.

Sotiris, or Soti, as Henry quickly learned, appeared to be a man who was well known around the Iris Market, where the wealthy and the affluent purchased their refined and extravagant wares from trusted merchants. Lord’s Hill was off limit, as the Watch was apt to warn them, telling Soti to take it elsewhere, but not in a cruel or harsh way that they might use for a Bog Rat like Henry.

“Where are you going today, Soti?” An inky haired woman with smoky eyed woman called to him from a balcony, her dress hanging over one of her dusky shoulders as she called for him.

“Penny Market,” Soti called over his shoulder to her.

“Oh, why?” She cooed as she squirmed on her balcony railing, spreading out her long, lithe arms. “Why not stay here and learn some finer arts?”

“I close my eyes and my mind, temptress,” Soti grinned as he called back to her.

“Spoil sport!” the woman called to him.

Henry was blushing as he followed Soti for a block or two before Soti spotted him grinning. He caught a glimpse of Henry grinning at him and frowned at him. “What are you on about?” Soti demanded.

“Who was that?” Henry nodded back in the direction of the dark-haired beauty.

“My betrothed,” Soti replied. His voice was flat and gave no hint as to whether he was telling the truth or not. Henry felt that it was dangerous to take the word of people he just met at face value. People like Hubert lingered in the halls of the Chapel, mixing with the devout, so maybe Soti was one of those just biding their time before they inherited responsibilities from their families or elders. Maybe he was to be wed to the woman calling to him. Or, maybe he wanted to see Henry contort his mind over the paradox of a Faithful Brother being betrothed to a woman who seemed to burn with passion for him. Or maybe that was no point and Soti was just a liar. Henry didn’t waste any more time thinking about it.

They passed over the First Bridge, which was the oldest and largest bridge in Trennon, the bridge that he had first crossed when going to Bogland. It led them along the West Docksides, which Henry now associated with where the poor and hardened citizens of the city labored and toiled to make their coin. These were the people who lived on the far west district of the city, farthest away from Lord’s Hill and the illustrious Iris Market. This was where Toiltown wrapped around the Penny Market and was flanked by the walls, the Ironworks and the West Dockside, all places that you didn’t want to be.

Here, the people were covered in soot and grime, callouses and scars from their labors. This was where people dressed in darker clothes and had greasy hair that they tried to hide in ponytails and hats. These were the people that could afford wool and poor cotton and always had something made of leather strapped to them. The Watch was tougher here and the Watch Posts weren’t for citizens to come to with troubles, but to maintain order.

Henry had been in Trennon for over a month now and he knew that the Ironworks and the Docksides were where the Brogans ruled, as they did in the Crafter’s Corner and the Masonry or the Overlook where the average citizen could live comfortably and cared for. But, the Watch still maintained a presence there. In Toiltown and the Penny Market, the Watch posts vanished and packs of men who looked like vipers that had taken to two legs kept their vigil. There were taverns here that did not have facades with beautiful stonework or wood carvings. There were no tea shops, but rather brothels with women who had to look more appealing with beer coursing through a person’s veins. Everyone reminded Henry of the sick or the doomed. It was a sad place and Soti strolled calmly into the bowels of the Penny Market.

There were no shops in the Penny Market, only stalls and wagons that had been converted over to storefronts for the day. Armed men stood near the merchants with truncheons and clubs, while oily men with lying smiles professed to the quality of their goods. People dressed in rags sat around the statue of a faceless knight at the heart of the market, their hands stretched out, cupped for a compassionate coin. Others held out wooden bowls and one man looked as if he had the top of a skull.

Even this was better than what lay beyond the walls in Bogland.

“Mirna does not shun the darkness,” Soti declared, his voice resonating in a thunderous boom as he stood on his corner. “Mirna does not pity the darkness. Mirna does not punish the darkness. It is Mirna, who embraces and forgives those who live in the wicked hold of the darkness. All who sin may find comfort and acceptance in the loving understanding of our Saint Mirna.”

No one listened.

No one cared.

Compassion was a dead word here, a murder that had gone unsolved for so long that the bones had turned to dust. There was no compassion in the hard places of the world where prayers were better answered by the sweat of one’s brow than the will of the gods or saints. Soti seemed to know this, as he stared up at the sky while he shouted the Chant, shouting the words of salvation that no one seemed terribly interested in hearing.

The idea was that the Chant would be a beacon to those who needed it, a seed to those who didn’t know they needed it, and a warning to those who denied it. As the waves crashed against the rock, waring away the unfeeling stone, so too would the loving words of Mirna eat away at the callous heart of the sinner. Henry was fairly certain that it never truly did.

Sure, people filled the pews every service, mostly from Lord’s Hill and listened to Bishop Albert tell them that love and understanding was the virtue best preserved in the hearts of Humanity. But the next service, those same worshippers would rotate to the Chapel of Bernard who would hear that the Arts and Higher Thought was the highest virtue the Faithful could strive for. And the following week, the cycle continued endlessly as people tossed their coins into the Atonement Coffer and lit a Candle of Prayer for whatever they wanted the Saints to give them and they went on their merry way, forgetting that places like Toiltown, or the Penny Market, or Bogland were visible beyond their windows. Compassion was the virtue they liked to forget first.

The hours went on as Soti wasted his time and Henry’s for that matter. Henry whispered the words of the Chant along with Soti, verifying that he had memorized it in his self-appointed solitude. Mostly, he thought about the coin and kept his eyes open for the stranger who had given him the coin. The man had come from nowhere and returned to it, moving like the wind. But the man never appeared. Those black eyes never found Henry.

But he couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. Henry had always felt like he’d been watched, at least since the night his family had been driven from their home, picked off one by one by cruel and unforgiving forces. The feeling was a growing sense of paranoia that he could never shake and he’d attributed it to what he’d been through, a kind of madness that he’d picked up that would slowly pass. But now he thought it was from the man who had given him the coin. Was he paranoid because the man was watching him? Because he truly had a reason to be fearful of being watched. Henry didn’t know. Maybe, or maybe the man was just another symptom of the paranoia. Either way, Henry was in trouble.

“Bog Rat!” A voice shouted, harsh and brutal.

Henry had jumped at the shout, having drifted in his own thoughts, lost in a sea of fear and consuming madness. When he blinked, and searched in a frenzy for the source of the shout, he thought it was for him. After all, he was an imposter living among people who would probably give him up in a heartbeat if they needed to. Henry had been nervous about walking down to the Penny Market with a fellow Brother that he’d just met.

But, as he’d known it would, the robe and hood he was forced to wear continued to be his armor and shield from the rest of the city. The man who wasn’t so lucky, was a red-haired man whose skin looked nearly as red. He clutched a loaf of barley bread and looked frantically to the man who had called out his name.

Henry recognized the man crossing the market, flanked by larger men than he was and his blood turned to ice. He recognized the stupid hat and the smug look of the youth who lead the growing pack. Henry’s fingers tightened, coiling into fists as he felt the tremor inside of him. His eyes burned as his bones rattled. Soti continued the Chant, completely disinterested in the approaching conflict. It was like a massive wave about to crash against the rocks, about to bring down the wrath of some water demon.

“Did I say you could step foot in my market, Bog Rat?” Pad called to the ragged man who stared with wide eyes, his whole body beginning to quiver, but he clutched the loaf of bread with nervous fingers.

“Please, I beg your pardons,” the Man said. His voice was timid and anxious, too anxious for any man to sound when approached by a cocky youth of Pad’s age. “I paid the ferryman. The Watch didn’t stop me.”

“The Watch isn’t the law here,” Pad reached out and snatched the loaf of bread from Boglander. Henry watched the larger boy that Henry had been so fearful of during their first encounter take the loaf from Pad and hurl it over the canvas tarps of the shops, where it vanished into the waters of the Yavas. “I am,” Pad sank his fist into the man’s stomach and admired his work as the man toppled backwards, gripping his stomach.

Henry took a step forward, but felt Soti’s hand on his shoulder, cautioning him to wisdom. “Don’t,” was all he said.

Henry watched helplessly as the larger boy and the other men beat the accused Bog Rat in the middle of the Market. From atop the walls, the Watch moved lethargically, caring less about the man being beaten below them than they did about the waste thrown into the Yavas. This was life in the Penny Market. This was how the Brogans kept their fear in the hearts of Toiltown and the Ironworks. If they were this brutal to the Bog Rats, who didn’t owe them anything, then how much worse would their anger be toward those who did. It disgusted Henry. The way it felt to watch a man from Umberlyn being beaten and savaged in front of an audience of apathetic witnesses, a host of ghosts.

“Send him back to his Rat Nest,” Pad waved his hand, as if issuing a royal decree.

The larger men dragged the Man back by his arms, ignoring the dazed mutterings and the gibberish that dripped from his split lips and swollen face. He watched them hurl the man onto the barge as the ferrymen did nothing, their grizzled faces staring with contempt for the man. With a nod of their heads, the goons sent the ferrymen back to where they came. Henry watched them.

The whole market seemed to hold its breath, watching Pad swagger back to his position where a pair of older criminals held mugs and raised them to Pad. He gave a flourish of his arms and bowed like an acrobat after a performance. Henry looked at the other men and frowned. There was a small army of the beasts. While the silence lingered, waiting for some dismissal, Henry’s heart pounded faster and faster.

Then, Soti took up the Chant again and life spilled back into the Penny Market.

Henry endured the rest of their vigil and walked in silence as Soti tried to justify what was happening. He talked about ecosystems and human nature. He rambled about the inferior cowering in front of the strong, regardless of their moral positioning. He even went so far as the claim that the Boglanders deserved their lot in life for their sins. That was when Henry started listening to Soti in earnest.

“Had they been men of greater virtue and valor,” Soti lectured, “then they might have stayed true and held Umberlyn. It’s only basic logic that a weaker mind would produce a weaker person, and they as a whole have proven to be a far weaker people than those of us from Trennon. The whole mass of them were wiped out by the Woodlanders, having not the cunning to out-maneuver a bunch of backwater, pagan savages.”

Soti never saw Henry turn on him, never saw the flash of Henry’s fist that had pounded a poorly padded wall for the past month and a half. He didn’t think that a thirteen year old boy could blind him from a punch for a second, or that an upper cut could cause his jaw to clamp tight with such a vicious clamp that his tongue would start bleeding. He didn’t think that the blow would cause him to stagger backwards and fall on his rear in front of the Chapel as well. He didn’t think that the Initiate who was sent to shadow him for a day would be looming over him now, casting Soti in his shadow.

“I’m from Umberlyn,” Henry’s shoulders did not heave like he thought they would. His breath did not seethe. His split knuckles did not hurt like he thought they would. All he felt was disgust for Soti. “You watched a man be beat today. You have no compassion.”

Soti touched a finger to his cut tongue and dabbed the blood before glancing at it in horror. “So did you,” Soti mumbled. “Pride is the mark of a sinner.”

All it took was for Henry to raise his fist and Soti’s courage withered and he flinched. He wasn’t worth it.

Henry returned to the Chapel where Father Borden met him with two older Brothers, ready to deliver him a lecture that Henry hardly heard. They informed him of the consequence of his actions for striking another Initiates. They told him that he would experience a lashing, should it happen again. Soti had claimed that nothing had happened, but another Initiate had see what had happened. She stood as a witness against Henry during the lecture. Henry learned her name, Clover. She was one of Tyla’s friends. Henry didn’t mutter a word during the lecture. When he left, he made his way to the kitchens through the mist and fog.

Gaullie and his servants were too busy in the larder and kitchens to notice Henry in the hall. He made sure that there were no witnesses when he snatched the butcher’s knife from the cutting board. The Initiate, Luko would receive lecture far worse than Henry had from Gaullie later that evening, but Henry didn’t care. Luko deserved worse from what Henry had heard. But, he also made sure that no one saw him snatch two of the loaves of bread. Henry hid them in his robes and stormed back into the bathhouse.

Hubert caught sight of him and grinned, raising a hand. “Henry, I heard about—“

Henry shoved past him and rushed up the stairs. He wasn’t sticking around to risk anything. He wasn’t going to be one of those cornered, bumbling heroes from one of the tragedies the poets talked about all the time. When Henry made it to his room, he wrapped the both the loaves of bread and the knife in his nightshirt and hid them outside of his window, certain that Father Borden was watching him now.

For the rest of the evening and night, Henry acted the penitent Initiate, doing his tasks with silence and humility. While dinner was being served, Henry noticed that there were more glances and eyes on him, watching him as he ate. The older Brothers and Fathers that sat around him said nothing to him. Henry looked up and saw that people were no longer disgusted by him, no longer dismissive of him. Yet, there was something worse about the way they looked at him now.

Now, they stared at him as if he were a wild animal among them, like a swamp cat that had slipped through the door. They looked at him with a mixture of fear and confusion. Soti wasn’t even present and the band that he sat with held a certain expression that was all their own, contempt. The head of the pack, Klaus, was particularly offended by Henry’s presence in the hall.

Hubert, however, was more than delighted to give Henry a wink and some of his fellows were excited to give Henry the flash of a thumbs up. They were more than excited that one of Klaus’s ilk had been knocked on his rear for being a hypocrite. Henry had been more than happy to oblige, but he didn’t like their attention anymore.

As for Tyla, her pack was back to their usual expressions of loathsome disapproval for Henry, especially the four gathered around Clover. It felt as if Henry had gone so far away past the point of no hope with the female Initiates, that it seemed futile to even care. Tyla gave him a look that more than adequately showed that she was not impressed with his actions, as Hubert was. That alone was all that Henry had to see to feel like he was an inch tall and dumber than a rock, but he still didn’t regret it.

But, his secret was out. He was an Umberlyner. He was a Bog Rat festering and stinking up the Chapel. He let that burden hang around his neck with pride. Fate had robbed him of his home and his family, but he wasn’t going to turn his back on his people anymore. He would be their representative in the Chapel and in the rest of the city, but he wasn’t going to let arrogant fools speak little of them.

“You look different tonight,” one of the older men spoke for the first time to Henry.

“I do?” Henry raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” the old man stared at Henry threw his sage eyes, which were framed with deep wrinkles and prickly brows that seemed to be balding too. “It is not a good look.”

“Oh,” Henry said.

Before he could make his escape back to his room from the hall, Henry was caught by the figure in the fog of the bathhouse. Everytime he saw a figure in the mists, he could feel his eyes playing tricks on him, forming the Man out of the mists. But this time, it was not the pale man. It was Glenda. She walked through the mist with her hands clutching a small pack. It was intimidating to see her. She was the most fearsome person in all of the Chapel, more so than Borden, Albert, or even Gaullie. As she approached, Henry prayed to Mirna that she might be heading for the hall to eat her meal for the evening. But, when she slowed and her eyes locked on him, Henry felt his throat burn with bile.

“Sotiris’ tongue was barely nicked,” she said to him. “It was a good punch. You rattled him well, though that is a skill you best forget, Initiate.”

“I was not thinking,” Henry said.

“But you do not regret it,” Glenda raised an eyebrow. She looked at him, waiting for a response, but Henry owed her nothing. She had cleaned his knuckles for cuts and slashes that their people had given him. She handed him the small pouch. “Your knuckles have been traumatized regularly. To stop swelling and bleeding, use your wraps with this poultice.” Henry took the pouch from her and nodded, heeding her advice. “And, Initiate, I pray you do not do anything rash again.”

Henry thought about how he had lied to her while he was slipping from his window in the dead of night, crawling like a thief down the side of the great Chapel of Mirna. He had not felt bad about punching Soti, but he did feel bad about lying to Glenda. She was a cold, matronly woman that had shown him kindness in her own way. He added it to the list of sins that he would atone for.

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