Trigger Warning: mild violence, humiliation, verbal abuse
Watching the children cry out with pangs of hunger and thirst was the hardest part. The shame came with overwhelming guilt as the crops died and the last reservoir dried up.
After two summers, the Elder Council of the Seiche Church dismissed the absence of rain as simply poor luck. When the last rain ended, there was nothing to distinguish it from another as it left with no fanfare. For the people of Arediel, the lack of indication those were the last drops was the most difficult part to bear. Perhaps they would have stood outside their thatch roofed homes clutching hands with family and neighbors with necks craned back both young and old gorging themselves and filling their cisterns if they would have known it would be the last time for ten years. Now, as mothers held crying children with distended bellies, no such moment comforted them as happy memories of rain had long since faded.
Once the sentiment of the peaceful assembly shifted to the opinions of those in the more riotous delegation, the perimeter iron gate crashed onto the gravel road. The crowd surge swept up even the hesitant as they passed through the narrow entrance with eyes transfixed on the enormous doors protecting the narthex. Determination outweighed self preservation as the crowd rushed passed the three-tiered fountain blanketed in a great shadow casted from the highest floors of the church. The amount of water flowing was barely enough to be called a fountain at all. Church doctrine decreed the fountain stood as a testament of faithfulness to the Lord from the people of Arediel. The church’s Master of Divine Interpretation maintained that a lack of faith forced the Holy Father to withhold his blessed showers and awaited only the repentance of his children. Even the most zealot Seiche devotees struggled to reconcile however, why the fountain was only visible to the small contingent of men that lived on the hallowed grounds.
Small rocks in clinched fists flew from the hands of desperate men. Safe inside their tower, the sound drew little more than a glance from the masked and cloaked councilmen seated at the large wooden table.
“My brothers, it appears the crowd assembled in our beloved courtyard have come to question the authenticity of our piety”. As Grandmaster Ramil stood with his nose nearly touching the yellow aureole that surrounded the Seiche God’s head depicted in human form, the rhythm of the small stones plinked harmlessly off of the opaque window like the pit-pat of falling rain. Awaiting the Grandmaster’s orders, they showed no attention as he walked past them and hoped the Grandmaster would return the favor in kind. Stepping between two guards, the Grandmaster inserted the key attached to his waist cord and removed the locked lid from the water barrel. With the blue sleeves with gold trim rolled up, he dipped the golden ladle into the barrel. All eyes watched as the Grandmaster turned around to face the elder council as some of the precious liquid sloshed to the ground. For the angry mob, the amount spilled equaled a week’s wages or more. Although many gathered in protest had heard the rumors of the Church’s waste of water, only those that operated in the echo chambers of the most vocal and violent contingent would have believed the truth. Even more water spilled to the floor as the Grandmaster raised the ladle to eye level for a closer inspection. The guard standing to the right of the barrel intently stared at the spreading puddle. Just as a well trained dog waits for his master to drop crumbs, a subtle nod sent both men to the floor on hands and knees. The two men tried to give enough space to one another as they pressed their lips to the wet floor. The Grandmaster watched and listened to the fervent slurps before he slowly lifted cold, black eyes towards the seated council members.
“Never would I have thought hearty men would prefer water to wine. Our Lord must be quite proud.” The words came out in a ponderous yet rhetorical tone only answered with nervous laughter from the Seiche Master of Divine Interpretation, Harad, laughter that signaled the correct response to the rest of the council. When the laughter ended, the deafening silence returned with a lone exception of two tongues lapping rough stone.
At last the Grandmaster delivered the long awaited instructions. “Master Harad. In conjunction with the Seiche High Guard, I want you to put a stop to the gathering outside”. His face was still turned towards the two guards on the floor.
“Of course, sir.” Master Harad quickly walked out of the room and down the hall to the Battlemaster. Without a knock, Master Harad opened the wooden door.
“Battlemaster Saavin,” the Battlemaster jerked to attention and feverishly rubbed his eyes. Showing the tell-tale signs of an obvious slumber, he placed both hands into the small of his aching lower back.
“What in the Lord’s name are you doing? Were you sleeping? Have you not looked outside Saavin? The enemy is at our gate and you are sleeping! Do I need to put someone else in charge, sir, so you can catch up on your sleep?”
The words came so fast the addled Battlemaster barely could form a coherent reply as spittle dripped from his cheek.
“Yes Master!” Master Harad tilted his head to the side in surprise.
“You want to be replac—“
“No sir! My apologies sir I spent the night with my men plotting a defense strategy, sir!”
“A defense strategy you say? What has our intrepid military mind devised for such an occasion?” Master Harad said as he closed the ground between the two making his way behind the large desk. Harad’s gentle taps to the aging Battlemaster’s balding head indicated the question was not a rhetorical one.
“We met with one of the rebel leaders last night and they want to bring an end to the trouble. Peacefully of course. They have demands, but there is nothing too outrageous. He seems to be a rather nice fellow.”
“A nice fellow?” Master Harad said with intoned incredulity.
“Oh yes sir! He wants to meet with the Grandmaster and discuss their proposal”.
“Their proposal?” The reply tasted more bitter by the syllable.
“Would you like me to retrieve him Master? We took him prisoner last night. Said he would rather us arrest just him if we would stop defending ourselves against the crowd. Nasty bunch they are. Had to run a few through, but they were lowborn commoners. Honestly, it was a mercy. Poor lot was so parched their tongues looked like sanding paper.”
“Their leader is here?” Harad, scarcely believing his luck, barely processed any of Saavin’s rambling past the word “retrieve”.
“Yes sir! We have him shackled in the crypt. Quite the weird one. We questioned him through most the night. Asked him about the whispers we have heard concerning”, the Battlemaster looked around and confirmed no unintended ears were present, “the R word”.
The thought of not having to address an angry mob in the throes of revolution and leave the tower tempered the response from Harad.
“Well what are you waiting for? Bring him here at once!”
The nervous Battlemaster gently scratched his eyebrow and looked for the courage or maybe hoped the words would escape on their own. Slowly the words crept out one by one each more hesitant than the last.
“He says he will only speak to the Grandmaster. He specified that he wanted to be alone as well and asked if the Grandmaster could come down to meet him. He did say that if the Grandmaster accepted the proposal, the crowd would disperse and no longer be a problem.”
The gentle tapping ended with a convivial rub as Master Harad walked back to the door barely acknowledging Saavin.
“Thank you Battlemaster. I will speak with Grandmaster Ramil at once.”
Once the door closed, Saavin reached into his desk drawer and downed his last remaining bottle of water as beads of sweat formed on his brow.
When Master Harad reentered the room instead of the courtyard, the Grandmaster’s expression turned Harad timid as a mouse. Before Harad could put his thoughts in order or his boot into his mouth, Grandmaster Ramil spoke pensively.
“Seeking a last prayer of protection, Master? Surely, Battlemaster Saavin’s regiment were eager to dispatch the vandals?”
“Yes, Grandmaster. My pardon, no Grandmaster. I come with blessed news. Battlemaster Saavin and the High Guard captured the rebel leader last night. I wasn’t sure our Lord would shine His favor on my plan, but alas His mercy rains.”
“His Mercy Rains,” echoed the councilmen in an imperceptibly timorous unison.
“He has requested to speak with you alone sir, but we cannot risk your safety.”
“While I appreciate your interest in my safety Master Harad, I am more concerned with the dispersal of the confused and misinformed rabble in my courtyard. Besides, our Lord has delivered this devil into our hands. I suspect I can handle the last wishes of a doomed man.”
As Grandmaster Ramil made his way down the dimly lit staircase to speak to the prisoner, treading the familiar steps brought on a wave of emotion. His father Loruca, a simple priest from the outskirts of Arediel, brought Ramilian to the tower at the age of eight shortly after the death of his mother. Grief affects all who can experience it in the same way; the difference is only found in how one bears the yoke. For Ramil’s father, it was trading fatherhood for the permanent stupor of wine. The Elder Council of the Seiche Church enrolled Ramil in studying the Word. As the child grew in stature and knowledge, Ramil drowned himself in the Word of the Seiche God depriving one of the vital lifebloods of grief, memory of the loss. Composing himself, the Grandmaster with torch in hand entered the crypt.
“Well, out with it prisoner. What fears do you have of my men that you cannot say in their presence? A betrayer in my inner circle? The Grandmaster paused for a reply before moving onto the ask of so many agents of change. “Or,” the smug satisfaction that this surrender was not one of virtue lingered in the air, “perhaps you desire in exchange for your cooperation something that you would rather not get back to your loyal cadre of mischief?” The Grandmaster peered into the darkest corner of the cell torch held head high with one hand and shaded his eyes from the blinding light with the other.
Facing away from the light, the chained and badly beaten prisoner crawled from the corner. With bloodied palms and knees, the prisoner summoned a final bastion of strength and pulled himself up the bars to level eyes with his captor.
“Water. Please”, the prisoner asked with surprisingly more vigor than the Grandmaster expected.
“Oh, you mean this?” The torchlight retreated with the shadow and slowly returned. The Grandmaster brought the goblet to chest level and held the torchlight to the side and revealed to the prisoner his immediate desire and poured the contents down the iron bars.
The prisoner frantically dropped to his knees as he keenly consumed the trickle as it rolled down to the dusty floor.
“Cruelty for the sake of cruelty brings the rebuke of the Lord”. The prisoner’s words were a familiar one to Ramil. The Grandmaster placed the torch into the sconce on the closest wall and crouched down.
“A devotee are we? I suspected someone as influential as yourself would have more self-serving mindset. Don’t tell me you believe that drivel? On second thought, I’m not surprised. In my youth, I found myself seeking the favor of the Lord. And look at me now. Grandmaster of not only this Church, but ruling the entire city. You know, before I came down to see you, I spilled three, maybe four fistfuls of water into the floor in front of the rest of the council. Did you know not one of them said a word to me? Not even a side glance. You would expect if the Lord’s favor was only for those that perform His will. Well…” the Grandmaster raised his arms to shoulder level with palms facing up, sneering, “I guess this is it”
“How can the intentions of a father be interpreted so differently by the son?” The prisoner’s words penetrated like a steel dagger. “Do you remember the final words your father said to you, Ramilian?”
As the fear worked its way up, the Grandmaster tried with little success to choke it down and instead substituted hatred.
“Of course I do! Nothing! He said nothing! He didn’t even turn back to see that they were going to open the gate for me! What games are you trying to play? How do you know anything about my past?” The Grandmaster closed his eyes desperate to keep the emotion he had fought so hard locked away.
“I fear that was not the last thing your father said to Ramilian. There was a peasant. Right before the last rain. He said something to you. Do you remember? He saw you in the marketplace and grabbed at your cloak.” Decades of pain crashed up against the Grandmaster’s hardened heart.
“I had the High Guard,” each word came slower that the last “execute him for placing non-familial hands on a member of the Elder Council.”
“That’s right, Ramilian. Except those were your father’s hands. Did you know he prayed every night that you would find My Favor? I scarce say there was a more devoted man in all of the realm, the world even. But, you killed the man. In My Name no less for touching you. I am Him, Ramilian. I am your Lord.”
When the Grandmaster opened his eyes, they were blurry with tears. The prisoner now stood outside of the cell. For once, there was no glib turn of phase ready to divert from the pain.
“Do you know what your father was there to tell you, Ramilian? He wanted to tell you how disappointed he was in your cruelty. How it made his heart hurt. How it made him question why he fought so hard to put the cork back on the wine bottle and to never open it again. You didn’t even attend his execution, Ramilian. You had forgotten his offense by the time the judgment was delivered.”
Any semblance of the once proud Grandmaster was no longer recognizable. His lips and limbs trembled in anticipation of the sentence soon to be passed down.
As the Seiche God paced around Ramilian. He delivered the final message he had held onto for ten years. “When your father was asked if he had any final words, he said,
There are only three ways to view the world.
How it really is.
How you think it is.
How you wish it was.
Men only give up when how you wish it was is no longer a possibility.
“Your father prayed in this cell before his execution, that I would forgive you for your sins. That if I turned my favor away that you would return to my flock. Your father’s last words, Ramilian, inspired the men that are at the door right now. Your reign has come to an end.”
With a guttural cry, tears poured down the once proud Grandmaster’s face just as the skies opened up and the rain poured once more.
Viewing the rain as a sign, the drenched mob of rebels, stormed into the church with stones in hand and with desires to color them crimson. With the prisoner no longer in the room, the Grandmaster fell to his knees and bitterly wept as he waited for the end.