So, this is one of those weeks when I just don’t have time for blogging, but for now, I still have my trusty serialised novel, which is not without its problems, because resorting to this means living off existing substance, but I’m sure that a time will come when I will again be able to produce new content before I run out of story, which, by the way, is now, so fat chance.
Previously on Angelic Duties:
In the first chapter, we met Profound Distress, watched her attempt suicide, be sent away by Abbot Glistening tears, and saying goodbye to one of her former lovers.
In the second chapter, we watched Profound Distress say her goodbyes to Blue Rose and drive off to Iustik, met a Gendarm called Kimbal with whom we first saved a lady in arguable distress and then watched how Lady Sorrow deals with people breaking Angelic Law.
In the third chapter, Profound Distress first has a rather unenjoyable encounter with Glonn Teneract, then with an Avatar of Lady Sorrow, and finally with a bottle.
Today on Angelic Duties:
Cerya awoke. More or less. Her head felt like someone had used it to forge a really damn good sword, and her mouth was swamped by a taste of dead rat. She stuck her tongue out but couldn’t get rid of it, so that was no use.
Then she realized that she was awake. She was looking up at a vaulted ceiling lit by a huge black cast-iron chandelier which held more candles than the average family in this town would use in their whole lifetimes, and she was awake, which meant that there were still buildings and there was still her.
“Wha- whaddappened?” she mumbled. “Whyzzaworld still there?”
She turned around while her blood froze and she forgot all about the end of the world. No. No, please, please no, it couldn’t be true, it mustn’t be true, please no – yes, of course, there he was right beside her. Glon.
She shrieked and jumped out of bed, clasping the blanket to cover herself.
Her nipples hurt. The bastard had always enjoyed biting her.
She’d really hoped she had changed. She’d really thought she had. Damn it, she’d known. She had changed. Really. How could this have happened?
He grinned at her.
“What’s wrong, honey? You never used to be shy. Did she?”
“Not at all, sir.”
She whirled around, looking into another familiar face. This one not young, smug and chubby, but hard, angular and vigilant.
“Duncan? What are you doing here? We didn’t…?”
“Oh don’t be silly, of course not!” Glon interrupted. “I doubt even you could get him to forget his duty for even enough time to open his sword belt buckle. He’s here because I’m the newly anointed pater familiae – thanks, by the way – and I plan to stay it for a long time. I definitely won’t repeat the mistakes that got the old one killed. He just watched, and for what it’s worth, I doubt he enjoyed it. Am I right, Duncan?”
He rolled himself out of the bed, waddled toward the water basin in one corner of the room beneath a larger-than-life and more than flattering portrait of himself and started noisily cleaning his face.
They were in a cellar room without windows. Why? Why was Glon’s bedroom in the cellars?
She closed her eyes and tried to get her breathing under control, and her heartbeat, and her headache, tried not to faint, and succeeded. Heavens, she needed a drink. She really…
“Duncan, can you get me a tumbler of Grey Treuse? Quick, please?”
He looked at her, kind of sad, but then, he had always looked kind of sad.
“Don’t,“ he murmured under his breath. “At least take a little time to think about it. I always liked you, Cerya.”
“You…” Him liking anybody at all was hard enough to imagine, so she didn’t even notice at first how he’d called her by her wrong name. She had a feeling this was the wrong time to insist on formality, anyway. “You never acted like you even respected me as a human being!”
He shrugged. “Of course. You were an irresponsible brazen lush harlot.”
“So remind me again, what did you like about me?”
“Hard to explain. I just always suspected you didn’t have to be.”
Glon had finally finished his washing and stood before the window, looking out, supporting himself on the window-sill.
“He’s a slow learner, is old Duncan here. But you’re gonna show him, right?”
She turned to him and wanted to say something to put him in his place, like telling him to cut off a finger and eat it, but all she did was blush and open and close her mouth like a hungry goldfish.
She was actually ashamed. That had to be a good sign, right? She never used to feel shame.
But oh, how she wanted that drink.
Maybe just a little cup. Half-ful, perhaps, just to get a little ground under her feet, just for calming down. Half a cup wouldn’t hurt, would it?
Except she didn’t want half a cup.
She wanted twelve. Actually, forget cups, she wanted a bucket, or a tub, to drown in, yes, a tub might serve nicely.
“You … are … such an ass”, she slowly, clearly pronounced.
“So, are you gonna fuck me again or should I get going?” he asked.
Profound Distress did the goldfish thing again, before finally replying “Fuck yourself,“ not quite in the tone of voice she had hoped for, but at least she said it.
“Duncan, I’m leaving,“ she announced.
“I have taken the liberty of ordering the Gendarm who investigated your predecessor’s disappearance to take you there and explain his findings to you,“ Duncan said.
She now began to harbor some really fond feeling for the old gruffian.
“Alright, thank you. Where can I find him, and what’s his name?”
“He should arrive any minute at the gates, and he’s called Kimbal Coment.”
Kimbal? Nether spheres, was she going to get a break some time?
“Oh do tell me you’re kidding. Please, tell me now and I’ll forgive you.”
But she already knew he wasn’t. He was Duncan Klaut. There wasn’t a funny bone in his whole body.
Kimbal entered the entrance hall of House Teneract, and, as always on the few occasions he had been called here before, he felt very much out of place in his grey woolen Gendarm’s Uniform.
This one great hall by itself was probably larger than any other building in the District, possibly excluding the Hermitage II Lacrimosa, which Kimbal had never seen, but imagined to be quite grandiose. The hall’s cold grey granite walls were festooned with finely woven tapestries in gaudy colors and cloth-of-gold, some even overlapping each other in their eagerness to show off Teneract’s wealth.
Various supplicants, prospective business partners, advisors, House members and servants cautiously made their way in between statues, vases, busts and random exotica ostentatiously littered around the hall. Their dresses rivaled the tapestries, if not always in value, then at least in the tasteless and desperate desire to impress.
Kimbal also noticed several emissaries from other Houses. In between a large gilded bust of some former Pater Familiae and a painted wooden dragon stood a cluster of black-clad Nevys members, their black robes standing out among all that colorful pomp, and further back, Kimbal noticed two Tawney Mechanists, shiny steel rings around their arms and necks signifying their status and allegiance.
No one even seemed to notice Kimbal. Where a Gendarm was a figure to be treated with grudging respect or at least a certain wariness outside, here within the House, he was beneath even most servants’ notice.
So he had to wave towards someone in Teneract grey, a young woman balancing a large serving tray on one hand and carrying a wooden jug in the other, and after a brief moment of consideration, she came to a halt and looked at him in impatient expectation.
“I’m…” he began, “I was sent for by Duncan Klaut.” The name made her immediately stand up considerably straighter and wiped the look of impatience from her face. “I’m supposed to escort the Cleric to her post.”
Mentioning the Cleric sent another jolt through the servant, and a flush of red up her cheeks.
“Yes, of course”, she answered, bobbing her head. “I’ll let her know you’re here.”
And she hurried up the wide granite staircase, as fast as her cargo would allow her.
He had heard, of course. He knew Gendarms working in the House Guard, and they knew of his former liaison with their new boss’s sister. So they had told him.
He was not surprised.
Or actually, he was, a little bit. He was surprised that a Hermitage would send a Cleric into the world who would hold a public anointment in a state of such inebriation that she’d spill most of the oil and then try to lick it up, to then proceed to bang her own brother.
He was not at all surprised at Cerya being that Cleric.
And when she came down the stairs, she looked quite as he remembered her, except of course for the stained, creased red robes. She used to wear much more revealing, much less holy, stained and creased stuff back in the days. But the spaced-out look, the bloodshot eyes, the jittery movements, that was her all right.
He could see the bright side. Anything that would mar the Angels’ reputation was okay with him, and he couldn’t think of a lot of things that would do the job better than Cerya as a Cleric.
“It’s not the way it looks!” she greeted him.
She obviously hadn’t changed one iota.
“I mean…” she lowered her eyes. “Actually, it is rather exactly the way it looks, but I’m not the way it looks. I’ve… I’m babbling, right? Sorry. So… Nice to see you again. How are you?”
“Great, thanks,“ he answered, almost laughing. “How about you, Your Holiness?”
“Please don’t call me that”, she begged. “You don’t need to. I don’t want you to.”
“As you wish.”
“Is that the way it’s going to be? Can’t we just… make a new start?”
“Like you did?”
“Oh fuck you, Kimbal,“ she suddenly screamed. All eyes in the hall turned towards them for a few heartbeats, before everyone decided pretty much at the same time that it was safer to avoid any involvement with the lunatic Cleric. “I did change! I really did, I swear, it’s not my fault.”
“Oh, of course. I remember, it’s just like five years ago. Nothing ever was your fault back then, either.”
With a certain grim amusement, Kimbal noticed how many of those surrounding them suddenly remembered urgent business they had somewhere else.
She took a deep breath, rubbed at her eyes like wiping tears away, although he couldn’t see any, and met his gaze with surprising calm.
“I was messed up, I know. I’m better now. And I’d just love for one single person to treat me like a human being in spite of this one single stupid misstep. Sorry for thinking that could be you.”
He just looked at her and swallowed. And then shook his head. Damn it, she was about to do it again, just like she always had. But not anymore. He was done being the guy she could always crawl back to, he was done falling for her show of remorse and he vows of repentence.
“Well forgive me for just assuming you were still the same person you were back then,“ he hissed, “just because you behave exactly like that person, and please forgive me for not just having forgotten everything that person did to me, and for not just assuming that you’re a wonderful, honest and reliable friend now just because you still act like the despicable, corrupt, irresponsible slut you used to be!”
He took a deep breath and looked around the now almost empty hall, quite surprised by his own anger and venom. He wouldn’t have expected to still feel so strongly about her. And to be completely honest, he felt a twinge of fear because he had, for that moment, forgotten that he was not just taling to Cerya, but to a Cleric, a steward of Lady Sorrow, but no Avatar appeared, no lightning from the granite ceiling struck him down, no Circle of Anathema rose from the ground to incinerate him. And he continued breathing.
She looked down at the floor.
“I should have known,“ she muttered. “So just go on acting all offended and hurt and superior, just like you always did, and I’ll just pretend we don’t know each other, would that be all right with you?”
“Perfectly, Your Holiness. Shall I escort you to your coach now?”
She wiped at her eyes again, quickly, and this time he wasn’t sure there hadn’t been a tear.
“So she’s gone then, right?”
Well, he was going to miss her, obviously, but it was for the best
“Should we be concerned about her?” Laghmutch Tawney asked.
“Nah. I got her.”
“And you’re really sure it was the wisest course of action to publicly disgrace and then bed her?”
Glon had hated the guy from the beginning.
“Maybe not, but you cannot imagine how good it felt. Both, obviously. Also, you don’t know her. I do. We have to keep her down if we want to control her. Cannot let her become high and mighty on us, or she might get funny ideas. Let me handle her. I don’t come to your workplace and tell you which way to turn a screw, do I?”
Laghmutch breathed and raised his eyebrows the slightest bit.
Profound Distress didn’t feel any better when they reached the outpost, and her state wasn’t helped by Kimbal not saying a word without being asked and then being monosyllabic and taciturn.
She was still glad he was with her, though, because he kept her from stopping at some inn on the way.
“One could almost think you didn’t give any thought to the disappearance of a Cleric within your jurisdiction.”
“I did. I just don’t feel like talking to you about my thoughts.”
“You should. Even if you don’t like me, I represent the Angels. I work for them.”
“Well, I’m doing my duty, not more. I hate you Clerics.”
She frowned at him.
“I thought it was just me. You hate us all?”
“It’s not forbidden, is it?” he asked, although of course he knew. No one would dare admit to something forbidden by Angelic Law to a Cleric.
“Of course not, you may hate whomever you like,“ she answered. “It just makes us sad.”
“You’re Lacrimosa, aren’t you? You’re sad all the time anyway, right?”
When the coach finally stopped and they got out, Profound Distress was pleasantly surprised.
The outpost was a picturesque little hut with a thatched roof, set back about ten meters from the road, built at the edge of a small clearing. Bright sunlight filtered through the leaves of the birches and plane trees that made up the majority of the forest, and it illuminated the lush grass on the clearing.
Beside the hut stood a well built of light gray field stones with a cover of boards, a small roof and a winch above. The whole thing showed not the smallest signs of wear and looked really idyllic to her until she realized that she was going to live here alone and would have to pull the buckets up herself.
When they entered, she immediately knew that the Angels hated her. Not that she’d had much doubt left, but now even its last shreds were gone.
There was a three-quarters-full bottle of Angels’ Tears.
Profound Distress swallowed dryly and tried not to look at it, which worked for about the time it took her to find something else to look at and then quickly return to the precious bottle of unthinkable goodness.
Of course, the stuff was only called Angels’ Tears, it didn’t have anything to do with their implacable celestial masters. It was a kind of brandy that was made only from the best vintages of House Frenner, aged in hojwood casks for fourteen years and… well, she didn’t know a lot about the technique behind it but she knew that they produced only about one barrel every few years and that it was to ordinary brandy as that was to the slop bucket of your average tavern.
“…sure why he would have, but that’s the official… Are you even listening, Your Holiness? Is it rude of me to interrupt that bottle?”
“Uh. Sure. I mean, sorry, no, I’m listening. So… How did you find out he was gone?”
She had always hated it when he raised his left eyebrow like that.
“Well, when a trader arrived here for his appointment, he found the Barrier closed and no one here to open it for him.”
“Of course.” She would have to draw up a letter to Glonn, telling him when he could expect the crossing to be reopened. Maybe she would keep him dangling for a few days. Would serve him right to have to buy his Outsider goods from another House for a while, and pay the premium that would certainly come with that. “So, when you got here, what was it like?”
“It was as it is now. I searched the hut, but I put everything back in its place, and I didn’t find anything alarming, just …”
She wouldn’t need a lot. Just a swallow. Just a little something to take the edge off. It was unfair, after all. She’d really thought she’d die. Otherwise she never would have drunk so much last night. She wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Just a glass, maybe two at the most, to get rid of that terrible dull throbbing behind her eyes. Hair of the dog, so to speak. What would be the harm in having one glass? And it was really good stuff. It wasn’t as if she’d just drink it because she needed to drink. It would be an experience. Would be a shame not to. This was a special occasion after all.
“…anything out of the ordinary?”
“Uhh… No, not as far as I know.”
Profound Distress prayed that answer fit his question in some conceivable way. Damn, she really should start paying attention to what he was saying. She felt a blush creeping up her cheeks and knew it was useless to try and fight it, so she tried something else: Distraction.
“Did you find any clues that someone else might have entered the cabin?”
“Hard to say for sure, of course, but there seemed to be nothing missing. As you might have noticed”, he said with a wry smile, “The expensive booze is still there, as is some money of his. Unfortunately, the traveler did not remember for certain whether the door was open, but he seemed to recall…”
Why? Why did this have to be so hard? She had managed well for the last years. She’d seemed to really have gotten a hold on herself. She couldn’t have destroyed all that in a few hours of indulgence, could she?
She knew she was strong enough. She’d get through this. Damn, but that stuff looked good. A deep, malty colour, almost like honey, it seemed to positively glow in the sunlight pouring in through the windows.
“Cerya, you know, I don’t mind telling you all this, and who knows, you might even be able to do something with the information, being a Cleric and all, but wouldn’t that sort of require your actually listening to a word I’m saying?”
“Yes. Yes, Kimbal, you’re completely right. I’m sorry. I’ve been distracted. I’ll be good now.”
She took a deep breath and focused exclusively on him, noticing his surprised, almost impressed look. He wasn’t used to her accepting a reprimand and responding by actually adapting her behavior. And he had called her Cerya. That was a good sign, or at least so she hoped.
“This must be hard on you”, he said.
And she almost started to cry. It felt like standing under a stream of warm water after being out in the cold for days. It was patently ridiculous how grateful she felt for that morsel of sympathy.
“Thank you,“ she managed to say in an almost not-trembling voice. “Yes. But it’s my fault.”
He shook his head, still smiling, now with a lot more warmth.
“I hope you’ll make it. I really do.”
“Thank you,“ she repeated.
“I know there’s good in you, Cerya. I know you’re not a bad person. That’s why I loved you.”
Damn it. Now she felt a tear running down her cheek. She quickly wiped it away. She opened her mouth and almost said: ‘I still do”, but she didn’t.
Instead, she asked him to explain again, and he did, and she listened, trying to hide her occasional glances towards the abominable bottle that was still calling to her.
“There’s something wrong here, don’t you think?” she finally asked.
“Guess so”, he said tentatively. “But… He could have just left. Or he could have gone out in the woods and had an accident. No one in their right mind would attack a Cleric, and if they tried, they wouldn’t get far, would they?”
“Right,“ she answered, after a pause that had been a little too long.
He raised one eyebrow and took a step towards her.
“Cerya? Do you know something I don’t?”
“No”, she immediately answered, “It’s just… I’m not so sure. But Slight Depression was 84 years old. How far into the woods could he have walked? You’d have found him for sure.”
He shrugged. “Who knows?”
Whether he believed her act or not, he didn’t ask any further. That was good enough for her.
Most people had… exaggerated ideas about the relationship between Clerics and Angels, and the Clerics had no interest whatsoever in correcting them.
The truth was that the Angels didn’t give a hoot if someone killed a Cleric, as long as they didn’t infringe upon Angelic Law while doing so. So, a Pater Familiae killing a Cleric to evade obeying his orders or a smuggler killing a Cleric to get out of the Concord might face the wrath of an Angel, but any highwayman was free to slaughter a whole wagonload as long as he was just after their money. Usually. That was another thing most people didn’t realize about Angels: They were not an inescapable force of perfect justice. They were sometimes quite unpredictable. Of course, there were some constants, but it was hard to foresee in detail what response a certain act would produce. Again, not something the Clerics wanted to become general knowledge.
So, basically, anyone might have done anything to the guy, and might then have been killed by Lady Sorrow in return, or not. No way to know for sure, except… Maybe. If a chance presented itself.
When he started getting ready to leave, she reached out to touch his shoulder, but pulled her hand back before making contact.
“Kimbal, could you stay a little and just talk to me?”
He smiled – it was a really kind smile now – and shook his head. “I have a wife, and children.”
Something inside of her cried out in pain, but she didn’t show it. Mostly, she had guessed. She just hadn’t wanted to accept it.
“She doesn’t need to know”, she responded without even thinking. “Please stay. I’ll make it worth your while.”
He shook his head again, the smile fading.
“Kimbal, really, it would mean so much to me. I could… Would you like a promotion?” she asked eagerly, “I could make you head of the House Guard, if you like. You certainly deserve it, I mean, I… I just ruined it, didn’t I?”
He nodded, very curtly.
“You did. I need to go home.”
She wanted to ask him to take the bottle with him, but she didn’t want to admit her weakness, which was completely stupid because he fucking knew already, but then, she obviously was completely stupid, because she watched him close the door and leave without another word.
Book group questions:
- My tutor was apparently quite … outraged might be too strong a word, but let’s stick with it for now: outraged that Profound Distress had sex with her own brother, and could not imagine that she knew about their relationship, which of course she does. What do you think about this?
- Did this next scene from Kimbal’s point of view change your perception of him? If yes, how?
- Did you think he was being too mean in the last scene?
- Do you think he should have stayed? Why or why not?