Here we go with a fresh chapter of our English serialized novel.
Warning: The first scene might be a little risqué, at least by my standards, so kids, if you usually read this with your parents, you might want to have a peek ahead to make sure it’s suitable for them. Otherwise, enjoy!
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.
In the fourth chapter, Cerya has a bad awakening with Glon, a bad reunion with Kimbal who guides her to her cottage and then leaves her – on bad terms.
In the fifth chapter, Kimbal leaves, and Profound Distress somehow makes do without him. Kimbal’s wife convinces him to invite Profound Distress for dinner to regain her good will, and she accepts.
In the sixth chapter, Glon happens upon Kimbal while visiting his mother, and Cerya becomes friends with a puddle of black goo.
Today on Angelic Duties:
Cerya’s head was pounding a little, her mouth felt very dry, and everything was just a little too stark.
The sunlight streaming in through the window hurt her eyes, so she closed them, the screaming of some kids in the street hurt her ears, but that she had to bear. The smell of cooking from somewhere nauseated her a little, and the rough linen of the bedsheets seemed to chafe her sensitive skin, but overall, she felt pretty good, considering. She’d had worse mornings. Lots of them lately, to be honest.
She felt even better because of Kimbal’s arms around her and his warm breath on her neck, and his warm and comforting body close to her.
Her skin could never be too sensitive for him.
“Good morning,” he murmured.
“Morning,” Cerya replied.
“How are you feeling?”
“Great,” she lied, because she knew the truth would only get her into trouble.
“That’s good. I’m glad. You were in quite a state yesterday.”
She mumbled something he could take as acquiescence if he was in the mood to do so, and snuggled up to him, enjoying the feeling of his skin on hers, his warmth and the easy intimacy, pushing her back against his chest, and her behind against his groin.
“We … I think we need to talk.”
She felt him reacting to her, felt him harden.
“Well hello there.”
She chuckled, reached behind her and took him into her hand.
“Cerya …” he breathed as she started stroking him.
“What?” she asked, as sweetly and innocently as she could. “Didn’t you want to talk?”
“Yes, I do … I just – I can’t concentrate while you’re … doing that.”
She giggled. “You know, that’s kind of the plan.”
“This is – not the time, Cerya.”
She giggled again.
“Cerya, I’m serious,” he said.
“You think I’m not?”
Hearing him pant like that turned her on, and her own breath was coming a little heavy by now.
He took a deep breath – and laid a hand on hers.
“Oh come on!” she pleaded, turning around and starting to nibble on his lower lip, kissing the tender skin below his earlobes, whispering: “We can talk after, can’t we?”
“Seriously, Cerya, no. I’m worried about you, you know?”
She sighed and pulled her hand away.
“You can be such a killjoy sometimes, Kimbal. You’re always worrying about something.”
“Maybe I am worrying too much. And maybe you’re worrying too little.”
“So I’m an optimist, so what? Trust me, I know myself better than you do, and I’m alright. No need for your concern.”
“You didn’t seem alright yesterday. Not at all.”
Cerya sighed again, and propped herself up on her elbow, looking at him with knitted brows.
“I was just having fun with my friends.”
“Really, you think those people are your friends?”
“Look, just because you don’t have any, doesn’t mean –“
“Let’s just forget about them. It’s your choice whom you wish to spend time with.”
“Oh, I can make my own decisions now? Well thank you.”
She turned around again, and sat up on the edge of the bed, her back to him.
“I think I’ll get up, you know. The bed is no fun when you’re like this.”
He reached for her hand and took it, gently holding her back.
“It’s just … the drugs, Cerya. That …” She heard the silence where he had wanted to say ‘poison’. “Those drugs,” he said instead. “I think you’re losing control. I think you might be harming yourself, and I don’t want that.”
She laughed and said, without looking at him: “Oh come on. That’s just … It’s … No. I’m not losing anything. I just like to enjoy myself from time to time. So you don’t like it. It’s okay, I don’t mind. You don’t have to take anything if you don’t want to. Just stop preaching at me like that, I can take care of myself.”
“This is not about what I like and what I don’t like. I think you’re p… You’re damaging yourself, I think you take too much, too often, and you don’t even seem to realize there’s a problem.”
Still, she looked at her feet and the pattern of the wooden floor and did not turn around to face him. “Because there is none! What’s the problem? I feel fine! I felt fine yesterday, great actually, and I feel fine now, at least until you decided to start acting like the mother hen instead of… well I can’t think of any suitable wordplay right now. Something with ‘cock’, should be obvious.”
She heard him chuckle, then the rustling of the sheets as he moved, letting go of her hand. She turned around now and saw him crawling over, and sitting besides her, the blanket modestly draped over his lap. She was not surprised to see that his erection seemed to be mostly gone.
But at least he was smiling.
“Might have started wrong.” she said, “Instead of ‘acting’, I could have said ‘playing’ and …”
“Cerya. The drugs.”
“What about the drugs? I think we’re done with that topic, don’t you?”
“We’re not. You have a problem. It’s almost every single night now you get so wasted you don’t even remember your own name.”
“Why would you ask me my own name?”
“Cerya, I’m serious.”
“’Cerya, I’m serious’,” she aped his tone of voice. “Well I’m not! I can’t if you talk to me like that, it’s ridiculous.”
“Maybe … Would you come with me on guard duty one night? Maybe if you see the people we have to collect sometimes, their faces, their bodies, their … I don’t think you realize what path you’re on.”
“I’m not on any path, Kimbal, and I understand that your work makes you always suspect the worst, but I’m not like those losers you have to put into cells to sober up, I’m a Teneract! No need to show me those disgusting wrecks. You know I’m not that stupid, don’t you?”
“It’s not about how smart you are, Cerya. Just last night I had to carry you home, I had to undress you, and I had to bathe you before putting you into bed because otherwise you’d have had to sleep on the floor.”
“That … That’s just mean! That’s not true! I mean, yes, you helped me get home, that’s true, and that was sweet of you, but … You didn’t wash me.”
“You don’t remember?”
“And even if you did, it wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t that …”
She saw him glancing at her breasts. He had always liked those. She sat a little straighter, pulled back her shoulders, and noticed him noticing.
“I’d just been to a party at Bedal’s place, I wasn’t rolling in the mud or anything. You’re being mean because you can’t stand it when I enjoy myself without you, and that’s also kind of sweet, but you really shouldn’t –“
“Cerya, are you even listening to yourself?”
“Well so what if I was a little tipsy, it happens to everyone now and then, right?”
Well, not to him. Damn, this was the wrong approach.
He looked at her, visibly trying to concentrate on her face. She saw something move under the blanket between his legs and decided to cut this conversation short.
“Okay,” she said. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. We’ll spend the next two days together, and I won’t touch any drugs at all the whole time. How is that?”
“I have to work.”
She laughed, sneaking one hand under the blanket. “Come on, I’m Cerya Teneract! Don’t you think we can arrange something?”
“I don’t want you to arrange something for me, I want to do my job like every other Gendarm.”
“So, what now?” she asked, and started stroking him again. “You want to be the mother hen, or you want to be the big strong Gendarm doing his job instead of playing with his horny girlfriend?”
He sighed – and again laid a hand on hers, stopping her.
“You promise you’ll stay with me, and you won’t drink or take anything else?”
“Pinky swear!” She held up her free hand, little finger outstretched.
Cerya always had some Dust in her bag, and if she only took a little, he’d never find out, and who knew, maybe she really wouldn’t take any, she certainly didn’t feel like it right now.
Either way, he would be happy, she would be happy, everyone would be happy, so what should be wrong about it?
Kimbal nodded, his breath getting heavy again. She enjoyed the feeling of his penis hardening under her hand.
“But you’ll arrange nothing,” he said, a little raggedly “I’ll – talk to the others, see if I can switch some – shifts. It’s a bit short notice, but if I … offer to take double, and the night shifts, they won’t object.”
She grinned, pushed the blanket away and bowed over to take him into her mouth.
Hurrying down the same street he had fled through before, the day Lady Sorrow cast her Circle of Anathema, Kimbal muttered invectives under his breath, shaking his head in disbelief.
Sure, it felt wrong to just bolt, but he could certainly not afford a fight with Teneract’s vicious new Pater Familiae, and furthermore, he could not imagine himself gaining anything from such a fight, even if, by some miracle, he had won it, in whatever sense imaginable.
What, were they all thirteen years old now? What was Glon thinking?
Not that Kimbal wouldn’t have wanted to fight him. He hated his guts. Without her brother always tempting her, always offering whatever drugs were in fashion right now, always ridiculing her for trying to be a person worthy of respect, for loving someone outside the family, Cerya might have had a chance. She might have become the better, greater, wiser person he had always known was hiding somewhere in all that decadence and corruption.
Just went to show what a good idea it was to be in a relationship with someone you needed to change to truly love them.
Although he had loved her then. He had. Truly. Even the Cerya she had been then. He had just known that she could be more, and happier as well, and had wanted her to achieve her potential. There had been love between them, there had been something wonderful, but it had withered and died in time, and Glon Teneract had been one of its gravediggers. No, that was the wrong image. A gravedigger did a necessary and an honest job, providing a dignified end for the dead, helping people deal with their grief. Glon had not been such. He had been a poisoner, and a …
Well, it did no one any good to dwell upon what could have been, but had not.
It might offend Kimbal to no end, having to serve this rotten excuse for a human being, but there was no changing the fact, so he had better come to terms with it and think about things he could change for the better, such as the preparations for tonight’s dinner with Her Holiness Profound Distress.
High Heaven, he so hoped that he’d be proved wrong, and that Katra would never regret overruling him.
“What do you recommend for a really impressive roast, Jamo?” he asked the butcher when he entered his shop. “Imagine a really important visitor.”
The butcher crossed his arms in front of his impossibly ever-spotless stiff leather apron, smiled his small benevolent smile and asked in his small, calm voice:
“We’re not talking Clerics, are we, m’boy?”
Jamo Heke was an old friend of Kimbal’s and had taken most of the responsibility for him after his parents had been killed by that monster Lady Sorrow, so, strange as it sounded, that unique smell of freshly-butchered meat was very pleasant to him, and calmed and consoled him whenever he entered Jamo’s meticulously kept shop. Not even the morose empty stare of the goat’s skulls and skinned rabbits could diminish that effect, and there were times when Kimbal would spend an hour or two chatting with his old friend, helping him prepare his merchandise as he had been taught once. Not today, though.
“Might be”, he answered, grinning sheepishly. “Not my idea. Katra’s.”
Jamo looked into Kimbal’s eyes, his smile almost sad now.
“She’s always been too ambitious for her own good.”
“Might work out”, Kimbal objected.
Jamo tilted his head from side to side.
“Might. Might not. But if you ask me, she’s making a mistake.”
“No argument here. Still. I promised I’d get a good chunk of meat for the occasion.”
“You will”, Jamo said softly. “I’ve got a glorious crown of lamb here that will melt in your mouth if you get it right. If that doesn’t impress her, nothing will.”
He picked up a huge meat cleaver from a spotless but heavily scarred wooden chopping block and contemplated the play of the sunlight on its gleaming steel surface.
“How did you even know? She’s only arrived yesterday!”
“I know things, Kimbal, always have”, he said, never looking up from the cleaver in his bulky calloused hands.
“And one day I’ll find out how.” Kimbal had a nagging suspicion that Jamo Heke was more than just a butcher, and it nagged at him that he’d never found the first tangible clue in that direction in spite of having known him for decades.
“Sure. I’ll write a good recipe for the lamb for you, alright?”
“Thank you. How much is it?”
The butcher shook his head, again with the melancholy smile.
“My treat, m’boy. This dinner’s gonna be dear enough as it is.”
“You’re a ray of sunshine, as always.”
“Got your kids and wife for that. I’m gonna be your drop of vinegar,“ Jamo murmured while writing down his instructions in his tidy, curving, almost feminine handwriting. He wrapped the meat in a linen cloth and handed it to Kimbal.
“Enjoy, if you can.”
“I’ll tell you how it went.”
“How’s that case with the other Cleric going?”
“Could be better. You know how it is when Angels are involved. No way to know if there even is any sensible answer, and the idea that certain questions might lead me towards Her … Makes me shudder just thinking about it.”
“You need to let that go, m’boy”, Jamo murmured. “None of us get better by picking at old wounds, and even if I disagree with your wife about the wisdom of inviting her into your house, the new Cleric is part of your life now, and if she is even remotely similar to the person we used to know, she’ll not be wise enough to keep the distance that would be best for both of you.”
Kimbal took a deep breath.
“You know I can’t let go. I was there. I watched them die, and no one ever found out what they’d even done wrong.”
Jamo nodded, lips pressed tightly together.
“I understand that. Still, holding a grudge against an Angel is like holding a grudge against the sea. It does not care, and if you try to do anything about it, it will just swallow you, and still not care.”
“The sea is not responsible for what it does to people, because it does not think and does not act as such. The Angels do.”
Jamo slowly shook his head, smiling.
“Katra really is the wife for you, m’boy. She has the cunning, and you have the principles. One is worthless without the other, you know? That’s why I was always glad you and Cerya did not work out.”
“Held a grudge against you for that, too, back then.”
Jamo’s smile grew a little wider. “And it did you as much good as any other grudge will, didn’t it?”
“Because we’ll have a very special visitor tonight, an old friend of mine, and also … She is … A very important, and very powerful person …” He looked helplessly at Katra, but she just stood there, grinning smugly.
He couldn’t tell them that Cerya was a Cleric. Not after everything he had said about the Angels and their servants. They’d either hide under their beds until she was gone, or throw stones at her as soon as she got into viewing distance.
“Like a Teneract?” Brank asked.
And Kimbal found himself nodding. “Yes, exactly. Well, not just like, she actually is a Teneract; she is actually the most important Teneract there is, so you two just have to be at your best behavior, and bathed, and in your Sunday clothes, of course. You see?”
Brank nodded, but his sister Jonis just looked blankly at her father.
“What’s a Teneract, Pa?” she asked. She had just turned four a week ago.
“They rule the whole district!” Brank explained with an air of great wisdom and suppressed excitement. “Everything is theirs, even the whole city, even the Great House in the middle, you know?”
“Our house isn’t theirs!” Jonis disagreed.
“Look,” Kimbal said, “They don’t technically own it, but … This is not really important. What’s important is that Cerya Teneract is coming here tonight, and she’s important, and so we … need to be especially kind to her, and well-behaved, all of us alright?”
“But you always say we need to be kind and well-behaved to everyone!”
Kimbal looked at Brank and thought, of course, now you have to remember what I always say.
“Why yes, you do, but it’s especially important when the people you’re with can hur- help you and support you because they are rich and powerful. And you wouldn’t want a Teneract to be mad at you, would you?”
Brank frowned and looked at his feet. “Guess not”, he said.
Kimbal looked at Katra and sighed.
“Have I just taught them to yield to power and disregard the weak?”
She shrugged, trying not to laugh. “They’ll learn some day, why not now?”
“Well, if you don’t like what you said, explain.”
He sighed again and decided on a different approach “Look, you two, you know Percy, right?”
Both nodded enthusiastically, and Jonis even giggled.
“Percy’s a good doggy!” she said.
“Right. And it’s fun playing with him, and you know you can trust him, and he trusts you, and you play all kinds of silly games with him, even though he’s really big and strong and has sharp teeth, yes? You know he’s not dangerous at all?”
“But if you didn’t know him, he’d still be a good dog, and would never harm you, but you’d be careful when you first met him, because you know he’s big and strong, and that you might get hurt if something goes wrong, and that misunderstandings are easier when you don’t know someone, yes? So if you don’t know someone, and hope to become friends, you’re especially kind and well-behaved towards them, to avoid misunderstandings and become friends as quick as possible. You don’t start playing silly games with a big, strong dog you’ve just met.”
They looked at him, thinking about what he had said, and finally nodded – until Brank realized:
“But you just said she’s an old friend, so you already know her.”
“Yes, but you don’t,” Kimbal replied.
“And also, she has really long, sharp pointy teeth!” Katra said, chuckling.
“Damn woman, whose side are you on here?”
She laughed. “By the way, shouldn’t you be looking after the roast? I mean, I’m not the expert with the secret special recipe, but …”
“Oh f … forgot!”
He jumped up and ran into the kitchen.
Book group questions:
- Was the first scene too long? I’m not sure. I just thought it might have been a little hard to concentrate, especially considering the stiff competition, so my suspicion was aroused that the scene could have been much more vigorous if I’d edited it a little more rigidly … Yes, I’m being childish. What’s new? Seriously, though: I could have said about the same in about half the words, I just thought it was fun to watch them interacting, but if it bored you, I’d like to know.
- How did you like Jamo?
- Should I have mentioned earlier that Kimbal’s parents have been killed by Lady Sorrow? I think I should, but I don’t know where.
- Children are difficult. Do you think Brank and Jonis worked out okay in the last scene?