A Woeful Melody
I head to the church, amidst the other members who don’t live in the church dorms. Everything seems normal as I enter the dining hall and take my place in line. It’s almost completely silent like usual, with only sporadic whispering breaking the quiet.
As the Head Priest takes his position in front of the room’s podium, I feel my stomach churn violently. He raises a hand and the whispering stops. Everyone waits patiently for him to speak.
“Before we begin tonight’s prayer, I must sadly bring something to your attention. One of your brothers or sisters has trespassed into a part of the church only sanctioned for the few chosen by Loriana herself.” His eyes sweep slowly across everyone gathered, no doubt gauging every person’s reaction. I plaster concern onto my face, and my heart stops as his gaze passes over my section of the crowd. He passes me by, and I feel my heartbeat pick back up.
“We must do everything we can to bring this heathen to light, for the sake of Loriana, blessed be her name.” At the blessing of Loriana everyone gathered clasp their hands together and bow their heads. It’s a practice usually forgotten about, except in the presence of a church official. After the announcement, the Head Priest continues into the usual prayer, then leaves us to eat in silence. My stomach still aches, and only gets worse the longer I’m in the room. By the time I reach the front of the line, I feel ill. As I grab my tray, Tern smiles widely and waves at me. I manage a small, sickly smile and wave back, before turning away to find a table.
I notice one in the back corner of the room that’s mostly empty. I take a seat and say my private prayer.
Thank you Saint Loriana for your protection. I keep the prayer short, and glance about me after I’m done. Nobody pays me any mind, so even though I’m not hungry, I force myself to eat my food ration of beans and barley bread.
I take my tray to the wash bucket, and see Tern gesturing to me from the kitchen. I meet him as he exits the kitchen.
“Hello, friend.” He whispers merrily once I’m close enough. “How’s your day going?” His grin seems too wide for his face, and his eyes stare at me deadpan.
Is that because of the drugs? I wonder as I smile back at him.
“I’m doing okay, Tern. How about yourself?” He takes a step closer, leaving only a foot between us.
“I’m great as usual. It’s another blessed day, thanks to Saint Loriana.” His smile fades then, and he puts his hand on my left shoulder, squeezing slightly. “I just can’t believe that there’s a heathen among us.” He frowns in consternation and fixes me with a blank stare. “I don’t know how someone from the church could do something so blasphemous.” I feel my hands get sweaty, and my heart beats faster. I let the false smile fall from my face and attempt to keep my composure.
“I don’t know, either. It’s unfathomable.” I try to create a tone of outrage, but to me, my voice is weak. Tern stares at me for a few seconds longer, then lets his hand fall and sighs.
“Well, I need to get back to work now.” His smile returns. I relax somewhat.
“Yeah, they might make you clean the bathrooms if you keep slacking off.” I say, and despite everything, smile at the familiarity of the exchange. We laugh quietly and clasp hands. When I try to let go though, Tern holds on firmly.
“By the way, you still work evenings in the archives, right?”
“Yes, why?” I answer without thinking, then immediately understand the implications.
They’re suspicious of me...and I just admitted to being in the area around the time someone was trespassing. My throat tightens and breathing becomes more difficult. Tern loses all semblance of laughter and instead of the dead look, his eyes simply spell sorrow. I jerk my hand free of his and take a step back, now on high alert.
No, no, no….I can’t believe Tern would do this? I turn away without saying anything else and leave the dining hall, trying to disguise my hurried pace, but by the time I reach the door I am at almost a jog. I make it all the way to the entrance hall before I notice a man, clad in the white robes of upper level clergy, trailing behind. Upon seeing him behind me, I freeze and we watch each other silently. His face is rough with stubble, his head bare, and his eyes a cold blue. He’s imposingly tall, and his robes hang off his thin frame, catching a light breeze from the doorway. He watches me dispassionately and I begin to tremble.
Am I going to end up like that old man? I stumble back a step and turn around to run, when I run into another man that blocks the entrance. He’s almost as tall as the first man, but has softer features, and isn’t as terrifying as the first. I dodge to my left and slip out the church doors. I run through the streets, tripping over my robes and falling twice. I don’t dare look behind me to see if the men chase after me, and eventually, I end up in an alleyway in a part of town I don’t know as well.
I search the street from the direction I came but don’t see anybody. Then, I lean on the brick wall and slide down until seated. Drawing my knees up, I rest my forehead against them and shut my eyes tightly.
What am I supposed to do now? I can’t go back to work, and they know where I live. Everythings happened so quickly, and it’s only now that I register how much my life has fallen apart. The bruises from when I fell throb painfully to the beat of my heart, serving as the physical manifestation of my anguish. The tears begin before I know it and I let them spill down my cheeks unchecked.
After several minutes, I force myself to regain composure. I have to get out of town. I glance down at my robes. I’m too noticeable in these. I strip them off and am left in my plain brown shirt, trousers, and leather sandals. I leave the robes in the alley and head out of town into the forest. As I walk, I notice how light my body is without them, but I can’t revel in the feeling with how heavy my mind is. Where can I go? How can I survive out here all alone?
By now, the sun has already dipped below the horizon and the last rays of light cling to the darkening sky. As I’m walking through the shadows of the towering trees and thick undergrowth, I’m surprised to notice that I'm feeling relaxed. There’s a silence, but a silence unlike the one that clings to the halls of the church. The quiet is natural here, not forced, and embraces everything inside it like an old friend. The church can be stifling from stagnant air and suffocating with its rules. Out here, I feel the worries and pain from before vanish. Swept away by fresh air and dusklight, I can smile for the first time today.
It's now that I hear something. It’s faint, but it carries a soft sound, with a gentle rhythm. It’s a song of mourning, and I feel it pull on the strings of my heart. Like a puppet, I move towards it, walking first, then building speed. The notes of the song work their way into the cracks in my heart, filling me with sorrow...and swirl the puzzle pieces of my mind.
Pain: Heart, hands, knees, Mind.
The pieces fall into place,
One after another,
A piece thought lost
Connected in disharmony.
I burst into the clearing and upon seeing her hair, kissed by starlight, and her bright eyes staring back at me, my memories deafen me. Misery overwhelms me, and I stumble two steps forward.
Tef, my friend...loved me like a son and I didn’t even recognize him. I remember my friend and mentor, I remember him raising me...I remember his lacerated body, and his hysterical laugh. My heart shatters and I stumble another step towards her.
“Gwynn,” is all I can manage. The edges of her lips barely lift in a melancholic smile, and she reaches to take my hand, gripping it firmly. I sob uncontrollably, not for being reunited with Gwynn, but for Tef. Images of his smile, his laugh, his kindness, flash across my mind's eye and rack me with new pain.
It’s a long time before my tears dry.