Chapter XV: Compassion

Monthly, the furnaces were stopped, heat stopped boiling the water that travelled through the pipes, warming the floors, the baths, and slipping out into the sky, high above the Chapel. When the mist cleared from the bathhouse and the waters stilled while the patrons left, leaving their offerings in the wooden box before they vanished into the streets of Trennon, the doors locking behind them. Then, when the waters were cool and still, the Initiates were divided and set to their tasks.

Normally, Henry worked with the furnaces, but on the cleaning day, the furnace crew was assigned to the water crews. Father Vincento, who was in charge of the Furnaces, spent the day repairing them where they needed to be, inspecting pipes, and studying the engineering and structure of the Chapel. He didn’t need Henry and the other Furnace Monkeys for that. Henry, on these days, was set on the side of the great wagons, pulled by six oxen each, all five of them lumbering through Trennon and then out of the swamp, lumbering toward the Demir Mountains where the founts and springs fed the Yavas.

It was half a day to the headwaters that the Faithful tended and cared for. For hours, Henry passed buckets, filling the great wagons with pitch coated tanks that held enough water to water an entire army. The iron reinforced wagon and wheels groaned and moaned as the water sloshed back to Trennon. These were good days, a monthly adventure out into the countryside where Henry would eat apples and dried fish as the other Initiates gossiped and chatted. Henry would read his book of children’s tales, getting ready for Firat who was already testing Henry, curious to see how much Henry could read.

Henry could read it all, but he wanted to do so with confidence.

While the water crew gathered the water that would fill the pools, the cleaning crew scrubbed the grime and the filth off of the walls and off of the pillars. They scrubbed the floors and cleaned the pools that were full of disgusting slime and growth. It was the faster job, but it was by far the most disgusting. Whenever Henry and the water crews returned, they opened the pickets and filled the buckets with water again and continued the chain of dumping water into the pools.

Once this was done, the furnaces were ignited and Vincento would start loading the clear burning wood down into the store rooms, lighting the furnaces, and breathing life into the great Chapel until the waters began to bubble and like a master musician, tuning his beloved instrument, he set the bathhouse to perfection.

By the fifth time Henry had done this, he felt like this was more precious to him than any other holiday or celebration that the city might have. It was a vacation, an escape from the mundane life that he had been forced into. But it was not the only escape that Henry found.

In the thirteenth year of Henry’s life, he found himself growing taller and stronger than he had ever been before. He did not abandon his training in the mornings and he continued to master the readings that Firat gave him. When he read the Children’s Tales to Firat, he was then given a book of histories to read, which he did so with a ravenous hunger for interest. It was about the Rise of Tyrantium, the Magician Emperors who drank the blood of the gods and whittled their bones into their staves, and their flesh into the food that gave them their strength. He read it and recited it to Firat. When he was done with this, Firat gave him another book, and then another. Each week, Henry’s eyes would scour the pages, escaping from this dismal routine.

Of course, this too was not his only escape. He was also pulled from his routine against his will be the other Initiates, strangely enough, one of them being Soti, who seemed to have been knocked off his soapbox and back to reality after his encounter with Henry’s fist. The Initiates who were there only to learn and to be hidden away from the evils of the world before aristocratic life was ready to pluck them back out into the world, all seemed interested in Henry. Hubert and Soti being the primary ones. Every day, on their walk to Chant in the Penny Market, Soti would ask Henry about Umberlyn, about how he was getting so strong, and where he’d learned to punch.

Mystery was, as Henry learned, a very powerful armor to wear. It was a weapon that he wielded with caution and deft usage. He would never answer Soti with anything that would help Soti understand Henry or get a rounded picture of Henry’s life. Once Soti knew that, then Henry was certain he’d cast him aside. So Henry would shrug and turn the topic to something else.

While these all served as effective escapes from the mundane, Henry found that the best and most intoxicating escape from the mundane was his nightly ventures into the darkness of Trennon. While the curfew endured, and was failed to be enforced beyond stopping trespassers from lurking in Lord’s Hill, Henry didn’t worry about it. He moved through the streets with growing familiarity, slipping into the sewers and delivering loaves of bread or anything else that he could smuggle to the residents of New Umberlyn. One day it was an egg that he had bought at the Gate Market that was ready to hatch and a pouch of seed for it to eat. Another time, it was some seeds that he had gathered from outside of a teahouse where a pile of spoiled food had been thrown. All of it was used to help New Umberlyn find life.

And they did.

Mayor Taylor, as they continued to call them, negotiated with the City Council for control over the Ferry and the Brogans could do nothing but grumble. More so, the legend of the Penny Knight kept the Penny Market on edge. Especially when drunken thugs would end up unconscious, tied up for the Watch to find or the Brogans to stumble upon. Henry had let the legend grow and spread until one day the Brogans set a trap for the Penny Knight, only to jump a member of the Watch who was tipsy and off duty. Five of their lackeys ended up in the stocks for that one and the Penny Knight waltzed away into the night.

In the Children’s Tales that Henry had read over and over again, he had learned of the Spider, whom the Tyrantine found so interesting and cunning. Spider was the hero from their tales that watched and studied her enemies, always letting them go about their business before she spun her webs and ensnared them, letting them always be the downfall of their own defeat.

This was Henry’s guiding light when he looked to help out New Umberlyn and those who suffered and toiled in that wretched swamp gathering berries, fish, bird eggs, and bog ore. They gathered branches and formed sharpened sticks to defend themselves and yet, they were still defenseless against the Brogans. So, Henry did what he could to even the numbers for them.

From everything that Henry had picked up shadowing Soti, Padraig Brogan was one of the younger sons of Faolan Brogan, who was the owner of the Stag Post Tavern by the Gate Market on Innkeepers; Row where he had muscled and beaten his way to the head of the gangs of Trennon. Padraig was in charge of making sure that Penny Market paid its dues, remembered who was in charge, and kept the Bog Lords from encroaching upon their territory. But, since Faolan had systematically executed the Bog Lords months earlier, this was an easy post. Henry had changed that.

The Penny Knight only struck when the moon was high and his legend was as popular in the Penny Market and Toiltown as it was in New Umberlyn. He struck from the shadows and drank the blood of the wicked. So, during the daylight, Pad’s men were more than free with their plots and their schemes. The Penny Knight wore thick armor and was as tall as two men, so of course he wasn’t lurking in Toiltown or the Penny Market listening to them. So, Henry just had to wait and listen and be patient. He was in no hurry. No one knew he was the Penny Knight and no one ever would. He stole clothes and wore them at night, he hid his face under thin cloth and he only went out when he knew they weren’t expecting him.

This sense of chaotic patience only furthered the legend.

So, the Penny Knight was as much as a distraction for Henry as anything else and he enjoyed it the most, because when he was the Penny Knight, he was actually doing good. But he couldn’t keep it up. He knew that much. He knew that one day the Watch would come for him or Faolan, whoever he was, would send his real thugs or Ciaran to deal with him. The lies, the deception, the theft, and the violence didn’t worry Henry. What did worry Henry, was that one day, someone was going to stop him. Either they were going to scare him or harm him, or maybe even kill him and New Umberlyn would be back to where they had started. Therefore, when the Nocturne ended, Henry waited for the sanctuary to clear and he watched as Bishop Albert knelt and prayed, as was his way.

The Brothers and Fathers, and Mothers all left, staring at him with questioning eyes, but saying nothing to disturb the Bishop. Henry simply nodded to them, offering a somber smile to let them know that he wasn’t just loitering. One by one, they left, leaving a candle for the wayward souls to find their way to the Light of the Saints. Henry sat down on a pew, waiting for the Bishop to finish his prayers. He could hear nothing in the great cavernous room, except for the whispering of the Bishop’s prayers. There was no noise from the Bathhouse beyond the doors, or the dormitories.

He waited for what felt like hours. The Bishop, praying for the sins of his city, for the well-being, both physically and spiritually, of his flock, and for the leaders who were plagued by the responsibilities that lurked all around the city. Henry had never been one for praying. He didn’t particularly believe that Mirna was listening to him when he prayed, conveying his needs and fears to the Silent God, but the Bishop believed. Henry felt his eyes begin to grow heavy, the weight of all of his daily work weighing upon him.

“Are you going to wait all night?” Bishop Albert asked, his voice rolling through the Sanctuary. Henry’s eyes opened wide and he stared at the Bishop who was still kneeling and praying. Henry wasn’t sure if the man truly spoke to him, or if he had heard it in his head. “Come forward,” the Bishop said again.

No questioning now, Henry rose and made his way toward the Bishop, his feet moving quietly as he walked. He was afraid of disturbing something, he wasn’t sure what. He approached the Bishop and stood next to him, standing respectfully at a distance. “Good evening, Bishop Albert.”

“I do believe it is night, Initiate,” the Bishop said, rising from where he was praying. “What can I do for you?”

“I have been following Sotiris on his Chant in the Penny Market for months now,” Henry said.

“I am aware,” the Bishop nodded. “Brother Firat has taken to liking you as well as Sotiris. You have a way of making people find you curious and intriguing. You were brought to us by a Forlorn Centurion, revealed you were a refugee through violence, drew admiration from the man you assaulted, and now you stand before the Bishop. You are bold and curious for an Initiate.”

“I promise it is for a good reason,” Henry said.

“And I am eager to hear it,” the Bishop’s words were warm, but Henry couldn’t help but feel like he was standing on the bank of a swift river and the ground was slipping out from beneath him.

“I have been listening to the Chants and the teachings of Mirna,” Henry said. He chose his words carefully, picking them with caution and mulling them over before sharing them. “My people are locked away in Bogland, scratching a living off of rats and weeds. I can’t help but feel the weight of Mirna’s words when I go to the Penny Market. How can I preach compassion to them, when I go to bed with a full stomach and in warm clothes while they suffer and starve? What can I do to truly help them?”

The Bishop was silent for a moment staring at Henry, but he wasn’t studying Henry or even there at the moment. He was somewhere else, wrapped up in a thought process that was beyond Henry or even this conversation. His eyes were full of thought, contemplation even. He was a wise man and Henry trusted that whatever he was thinking about, it felt like it had very little to do with Henry.

“Do you know the truth of Mirna’s life?” the Bishop asked Henry.

“Only what Firat has let me read,” Henry said.

“And what has Firat let you read?” the Bishop asked.

“The Account of the Chosen Mirna, by Cardinal Francois Edding,” Henry answered.

“Ah, a gilded tail, a myth given acceptability through religion,” the Bishop chuckled. “Mirna was claimed to have been Chosen by the Saints, given five miracles, one of which manifested upon her physically. It is said her eyes burned as bright as Winter Stars. But the truth is that Mirna saw the slavery of Malon and Tyrantium and refused to accept it any longer. She ignited a slave rebellion across a bloated and exhausted Empire that waged heavily in every house. Thousands of slaves died, but eventually, Mirna’s army marched on the gates of Malon City and the Empire had no choice but to allow them freedom and land in the Kinglands where the Kingdoms now flourish as Malon wanes. There was little compassion, little mercy, and even less charity given by Mirna. It is the Slaves who wrote the tales that you read and their descendants that glorify her and her followers who obsessively told tales that were beyond truthful. Now, today, I am left with the spirit of a bloody figure in history to emulate into a noble icon for compassion.”

Henry was silent for a moment, watching him, unsure of what he should say. The war that Mirna had waged against the evil Imperators and their Magicians had been heroic and just in the tales that Cardinal Francis Edding wrote about. There was no mention of the death and the bloodshed, but Henry supposed that it made sense that thousands would die.

“Compassion,” the Bishop said, “infected every household and killed many innocents, Initiate. Compassion to the wrong people can ignite a war, but does that matter to us—to the Faithful? Is our calling to love, show mercy, and offer compassion to those in need, regardless of the consequences to ourselves or those we serve? I have long pondered the fate of Bogland. I am glad to see that I am not alone in worrying for their plight. Thank you for your words. I will consider them.”

The Bishop considered them for days, and then weeks, and eventually months. Henry glowered and burned, his rage and impatience blooming until Harvesting came and Coloring. The trees began to turn in the city and the cold winds began howling up from the Steppes to the South. Henry continued his life, feeling less prickly and less barbed toward the Bishop. He stole apples and vegetables that the residents of New Umberlyn could plant and tend to. When he delivered them, keeping to the shadows, he would inspect the town beyond the walls. He would see the small gardens in planting boxes or in gardens atop their roofs. They were hidden and tended to daily.

It became painfully clear to Henry that people who were dedicating their entire lives to preaching compassion and mercy were incapable of truly seeing what that meant. They were drowning in all the reasons to be compassionate, but were paralyzed toward how to be compassionate. So, Henry continued smuggling what he could and he kept keeping an eye out for traps that the Brogans tried setting up for him.

Late one night, as the last of the leaves were falling from the trees and winter was threatening to come for them, Henry leaned over the bowl of stew and decided that he wasn’t sneaking out. It was harder to slip among the shadows when his breath was visible and the sewers were too cold to travel through. He was going to have to think of something different to plan for the winter.

He had come late to the evening meal and as he sat down to eat, others had risen to clear their bowls and spoons from the tables. Hubert, John, and Soti waved hello to him and asked where he had been. Henry shrugged and sat down at the end of the table where he was alone, brooding over the stew. His sage and silent guardians had fled and he was all by himself, not that it was any different.

His mind flooded with bitter thoughts that slowly turned toward the coin, as it often did. When he lay awake at night, trying to avoid the ghosts of his family, Henry would play with the coin, watching it in the light of the moons, letting it sheen against his eyes and blind him. He had shown nobody and he had never mentioned it. Now, as he ate, he could feel the weight of it in his pocket.

“Mind if I sit with you?” A voice asked.

Henry looked up from his untouched bowl and stared at Tyla who was standing next to him with half a loaf of bread in one hand and her bowl in another. She had a sweet smile on her face and she was taller than he remembered her being. Henry rarely saw Tyla, except for in passing with the meals. She was one of Glenda’s students and she worked off hours, usually at night, helping those who were being tended to for injuries and illnesses. He felt the smile that was wrought with awe spread across his lips.

“Certainly,” Henry said, rising clumsily to his feet to welcome her.

“Thank you,” Tyla sat down on the bench across from him. “I’m late for evening meal. We had a man come in, half dead from the Yavas. Someone in the Penny Market hurled him into the waters. The Bog Rats fished him out,” suddenly she stopped and look at Henry. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Henry said with a shrug, stabbing at his stew with his spoon. “Why did they throw him in the river?”

“I don’t know,” Tyla looked distraught, frustrated even. She let out a sigh and placed her hands flat on the table and leaned forward. “I’m not supposed to talk about it, but we keep hearing stories from people coming in. Their either beaten to a pulp in Toiltown or the Penny Market. They’re bloodied and bruised, but they’re all smiles and grins. They say someone mistook them for this man, this folk hero. They get beat within an inch of their lives, but they’re, I don’t know, proud of it. Does that make sense to you? Because it doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Things are terrible down there,” Henry muttered. “I go with Soti every day to recite the Chants. Everyone’s desperate. People are looking for hope.”

“And they’re finding fists,” Tyla shook her head.

They sat in silence for a while, Henry pushing around the turnips and tomatoes, trying to decide if Gaullie was using rosemary or weeds for seasoning. He didn’t dare look at Tyla. Ever since he had punched Soti, she had been sour toward him, avoiding him and giving him disappointed looks whenever he was foolish enough to let her catch him staring at her. This was a rare moment, a kind of fragile moment of bated breath in Henry’s life.

Everyone liked Tyla. No, everyone loved her. She was a ray of sunshine, especially in the work that she did with the other training physickers with Glenda. She was sweet and funny, always offering a cheeky comment with a warm smile. Henry liked her and the fact that her face was beautiful didn’t hurt things either. So, he found that silence was probably a stupid option in her presence, but it was a safe one and Henry learned that safe was better than stupid.

“Ruth and Claire were at the market today,” Tyla said after a moment. Henry looked up at her bright, cheery eyes. He couldn’t help but smile when he looked at her. It was like the dawn finally ending the night.

“What for?” Henry pushed, giving her the road.

“They were picking up blankets from Biddy Martin,” she said. “They brought back fifty of them. I spoke with Hayla and she said that the kitchens have had the ovens going for days now, making loaves of bread and piling them in baskets. I also heard that Hubert and his lot have been gathering potatoes and nuts. I think the Bishop is plotting something.”

“Yeah?” Henry felt something crack inside of him.

“But maybe I’m wrong,” Tyla said. “Maybe they’re sending all of you to war.”

“What?” Henry furrowed his brow.

Tyla grinned. “You need to stop spending so much time alone. I figured you’d be the most interested in that one.”

“What one? What are you talking about?” Henry asked.

“The Woodlanders attacked a caravan bound for Trennon,” Tyla said. “Watch Commander Gerwen’s nephew was killed in the raid and Lady Talthen was slain as well on her way back from Valen with her husband’s bolts of cloth. The whole tailor’s market is in jeopardy along with Coutheir’s goods for the Iris Market. Lord’s Hill will have to purchase many things from the Gate’s Market in the coming year. Either way, it was an act of violence that has the whole City Council in an uproar. They’re talking about sending emissaries to Dorothea to form an alliance. If there’s a war, all the men from the Chapel will be forced into service for support of the army.”

Henry stared at her, processing what he was hearing. The Woodlanders, they had been festering in Umberlyn for over half the year, no they were coming on a year in just a few months. He thought about the faces of his family, the faces of those that he had once called friends and the life that he had lost. It took a dead noble, a merchant’s lost cache, and the Watch Commander’s dead nephew to stir them into action. Henry’s fingers tightened around the handle of the spoon.

“When will we know if they declare war?” Henry asked.

“Who knows,” Tyla shrugged. “Not until after Winter.”

That was too long. Henry’s heart was pounding. They should march at once, before winter. They could take the city in a month and drive the Woodlanders out to freeze to death in the hills.

“Are you okay?” Tyla asked him.

“Yeah,” Henry felt the anxiety vanish behind the calm veneer that he had honed over the months of being in the Chapel. “Just fine.” He lied.

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