Late in the night Scarlet came and pulled me to my feet. It was an act I did not want and a feat of which I would not have believed her capable. She is strong for one so petite. I had not been in my right mind for hours. The others had left me to my weeping, which suited us all. By the time Scarlet had led me up the trail to the remains of the cave, I found that they had laid the young boy there, furthest and most safest away from the fire which kept the rest alive. The snow had stopped for some reason, so we left a trail as we went. Finally she settled me in the entrance of the cave with a lantern and my pack — giving me orders to scratch in my book. Of course they had seen me writing this journal each night. Why was I surprised that someone with eyes like hers had seen the importance of this activity in my life.
So, I wrote the events as I remembered them, wishing I could find my way back to the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist where I could blissfully forget the dead child, and everything else in my life. Alas that was not to be my fate. The others went about their lives, most attempting to sleep while a few stoked the fires and kept watch. They would not be ambushed from above again. They learned from life.
And with that memories flooded into me, giving a face to my true pain. My first true love. Do you remember Meredith, father? She was a small child, three or four when she came to us. I had to have been no more than five summers myself; one of the kitchen ratlings who carried things and fetched to the cook’s demands. I had fallen in love with Meredith, with her shock of red hair and her smile that even forced Cook to show her teeth to us a time or two. Remember how she died? Perhaps not. After all, you ran the order. Your responsibilities were elsewhere. You were far too busy to be bothered by the likes of us wee ones.
Meredith’s death was not as sudden as a sword stroke, oh no. Hers was a lingering death brought on by the vagaries of nature who cared nothing for the grace of her light. Meredith had been struck down with a lingering illness that did not register with one as young as I. All I knew was Meredith was sweet and funny with a laugh that rang through the keep like the rising of the sun. To this day I can hear her squeal of delight when she tried to catch Cook’s old cat, Thomas. How she hunted that poor creature with her short stubby fingers and her echoing laughter which gave her away every time. But Thomas was a good cat and occasionally let Meredith catch him for just a moment. She loved how soft he was and I believe Thomas liked the attention.
But, as I said, Meredith grew sick one day a fever that contorted her body. The sisters took her from us and locked her away without a word. I followed them, eavesdropping until I could find where they had hidden her from her friends and from Thomas. The thrill of discovery and the hope of seeing the wonderful child again had me giddy as I snuck up the back stairs to the east tower where the surgeon worked and the healers, plied their trade.
They used leeches, Father Mulcahy — evil razor faced blood suckers of elfish origin. The so called healers were bleeding Meredith and chanting over her with burning censers. She writhed in pain, her small frame broken from the affects of Breakbone fever. They knew nothing of healing, the charlatans, even one as young as I could see the desperation in their faces. They practiced mythology and ignorance. They could have healed her with a simple prayer to remove the sickness as I have done in recent days, but they had no such connection to the divine.
She died, Father, screaming for Thomas to come and make the bad men stop hurting her. The cat came to her near the end, whether by design or happenstance, but they chased poor Thomas away with kicks and curses. He came to me in the end, huddled where I was in a closet off the sick room. I have no idea how I was not discovered, but her cries and wails of anguish carved a wound in my spirit that has never truly healed.
Why had no one healed Meredith, I wonder, looking back from my position of smug adulthood. How is it that in a monastery full of true believers that none could be bothered to spend the short amount of time required to channel the divine and ease her pain?
That is the blackness that threatened to swallow me at the sight of the new dead child. I could hear the others from where I sat vigil near his corpse, out of the blowing snow. They wept and called his name, funny enough it also was Thomas. Just like the cat, I think Meredith would have chased after this boy, had they both lived.
The pain is too great, Father Mulcahy. The anguish too deep. How is this part of any divine plan? What had this child done to deserve the life that had brought him here, on this cliff side, indebted to a dragon and living the life of brigandry? Where is the justice? Where is the light?
Dawn is not far off. The others have decided to bury young Thomas in the valley below. I do not know how they plan to do such a thing with the ground frozen and the valley floor overrun with warring armies. Perhaps it is of no value to know ahead of time, but better to take action. I would go with them, carrying the child if they would allow such a thing, and help put him into the ground. Then I would see about the next moment. We never saw Meredith again, Thomas nor I. Was she buried? Cast into the swamp? Burned on a pyre? At least I would see this child returned to the good earth. At least I would see to that.
For now, that is all I can comprehend.