Well it’s about time, isn’t it?
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 Glonn, 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, Glonn happens upon Kimbal while visiting his mother, and Cerya becomes friends with a puddle of black goo.
In the seventh chapter, we remember times of better relations between Cerya and Kimbal, while in the present, he meets a butcher and explains to his children that a very important old friend is coming to visit.
In the eighth chapter, Glonn meets the Nuntia, and Profound Distress is caught by Duncan.
In the ninth chapter, Duncan takes Profound Distress to her brother, who tricks her into taking some sort of drug, and Kimbal is visited by an Angel in his house, who tells him to admit Profound Distress.
In the tenth chapter, we remember Glonn helping his sister out in a time of need, and we see Jakta Teneract educating her son.
Today on Angelic Duties:
When Kimbal came back, humming a happy tune and carrying a box of candy he’d bought for Cerya on his way, and found his door ajar and his girlfriend gone, disappointment was not quite the word for what he felt.
It was more of a resigned acceptance that this relationship, once again, held no pleasant surprises for him, and burning, irrational anger at Jamo for having warned him, and for having been right.
He knew he should just go in, look if anything had been stolen, and spend his newly-won free time resting, thinking about his emotions and his future, and repairing that loose table-leg.
But knowing better did not keep him from doing the wrong thing, as it never did with Cerya. Maybe if he hurried, if he ran, he might catch her before it was too late, and take her back to his home, spend a wonderful few days with her and help her overcome her weakness.
And maybe, if he jumped through the window now and thought hard enough about spreading his wings, he might fly to get there even faster.
He didn’t try the second thing, but could not keep himself from trying the first.
He ran all the way through Iustok, as fast as he could, until he reached the great squad block of House Teneract.
The guard at the gate stuck out a hand, palm towards Kimbal. “Nice and slow, now! Where do you think you’re going, Gendarm?”
“I’m looking for Cerya,” he panted, slowing down but not stopping. “I’m a friend, let me pass!”
The guard smiled a small condescending smile. “I’m sorry, friend, but I can’t do that.”
This stopped Kimbal. Confused, he blinked at the man.
“What do you mean you can’t do that? Didn’t you hear, I’m a friend of Cerya Teneract! You can ask her to confirm, if you’d like to inconvenience her, but …”
He fell silent when he saw the guard slowly but firmly shaking his head, condescending smile still in place.
“I have my orders. Cerya is not to be disturbed.”
“Orders? From whom? From her?”
When he saw the man hesitate, Kimbal knew.
“They’re from her brother, right? Glonn? That slimy degenerate –“
“Watch your tongue now!” a second older guard, who had just arrived, barked at him. “You’re talking about the son of House Teneract’s Pater Familiae.”
“I know! I wouldn’t use such words for anyone who doesn’t deserve them!”
Both guards had to stifle smiles.
“Fine,” the older one said, more conciliatory, “You had your say. Now be glad no one heard you, and leave, while the leaving’s good.”
Kimbal closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and looked at the older guard, who seemed to be the one in command.
“Please,” Kimbal said, “Go and ask her. She doesn’t know of this order. I need to talk to her. She’s … expecting me.”
It wasn’t quite the truth, but close enough, and much simpler than the truth, as well as less embarrassing for both of them.
“I told you she’s not to be disturbed,” the younger guard answered. “Look, we’re mighty sorry she seems to have discarded you as her latest playmate, but please leave now. It’s the way it goes with her. Trust us. You’re not the first suitor with the same look on his face you’re wearing right now.”
This idea hit Kimbal hard enough to make him take a step back.
“But … she … No, you misunderstand. She’s just … Please let me through. Let me talk to her!”
“I’m sorry son,” the older guard said, the unmistakable ring of final decision in his words, “Glonn Teneract has made his wishes very clear. Now if you would finally …”
He did not finish the sentence and suddenly focused on something behind Kimbal.
“What is going on here?” the brittle voice of an old man asked.
“Oh it’s alright, You Holiness, we were just explaining –“
Kimbal spun around upon hearing the honorific and saw the old Cleric in his red robes, holding up a bony index finger and making a tsk-tsk-sound. His wispy white hair hung down to his shoulders and moved in the slight breeze. He did not quite wear a beard, but he had not shaved in a long time.
“I was not asking whether everything was alright,” he said, “I’m quite sure it is. I was asking what is going on here.”
“I was just about to answer, your holiness.”
“Let him tell it,” the Cleric said.
“He’s right,” Kimbal grumbled through gritted teeth. “Everything is fine, you can leave us alone to settle this.”
He needed all his self-control to not punch the disgusting old demon’s slave in his face and kick him one he was down.
The Cleric sighed and bit his lower lip thoughtfully before saying, in a very calm voice, as of a kindly grandfather talking to a child: “Young man, I already stated what I expect of you twice, and once, what I don’t. The voice of Heaven does not ask. It tells. So answer.”
“What am I supposed to answer if the voice of fucking Heaven does not ask?”
A smile spread upon Cleric’s papery dry lips, and he chuckled softly.
“As you prefer. So let’s drop this tedious pretense that it is about any of us here, or what we want.”
With a pensive nod, he turned from Kimbal to the older guard.
“You will let him pass, but one of you shall follow him. His sweetheart is in her brother’s chambers. Guide him there.”
“Your Holiness,” the younger guard said with evident discomfort, “I’m sorry, but Glonn Teneract has ordered us to –“
“Young man, is there any lack of clarity in your mind about the hierarchical order among Glonn Teneract and Lady Sorrow? Do you wish me to ask Duncan Klaut to enlighten you and your colleagues on the matter? I am sure he would regret having left any room for doubt among his domestics.”
“No, Your Holiness, there is no doubt, I’m sorry, I did not want to contradict you, I was just not sure whether you-“
“Take him to Cerya Teneract,” the old Cleric said, still in the same calm and kind tone of voice. “I will not tell you again.”
“Of course, Your Holiness, right away. I’m sorry, please believe me, I never meant to doubt your authority, I wasn’t thinking.”
The Cleric nodded with a wry smile. “Do not worry, son,” he said, “Everything is fine. But remember, this is not about my authority. I do not hold any.”
“Of course, yes. I understand. Please follow me,” he added towards Kimbal.
The younger guard led him through the great grey entrance hall, up a generous stairway, through several wider and narrower corridors, to a door protected by another guard.
“Let him through. Cleric’s order.”
The guard before the door shot a confused questioning look at the one guiding Kimbal, but stepped aside when he didn’t find any evidence of humor.
“I’d leave if I was you,” the young man behind Kimbal muttered as he put his hand upon the doorknob. “If she’s really your girl, you don’t want to see what’s happening in there.”
Kimbal sighed, shrugged, and entered.
He noticed her glazed eyes, her swaying stance, her very, very stupid smile.
“Are you … Did you take something?” he asked, incredulously.
With a big sheepish smile, she held up one hand, index finger and thumb only slightly apart, and giggled.
“So that’s why the An… This is not true, is it?”
“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed, “Really, I didn’t want to – I did – I had – I can explain!”
He shook his head, leaning against the doorframe, still unable to accept this was happening. Again.
“Let me guess,” he said, “It’s not your fault, right?”
Her face lit up for a few seconds before she realized he was speaking sarcastically. “Actually, it’s really not. My brother, he gave me –“
“Cerya, I don’t want to hear it,” he said weakly, “I don’t care anymore about you and your brother. I really don’t.”
She swallowed hard and looked at him, open-mouthed, lips quivering.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really am. For everything. But please let me in. I promise I’ll be good. I swear. I’ll behave. Please don’t cancel this.”
She held up a small linen bag.
“Look, I brought something for you children. It’s a … Well, I’ve forgotten, but I remember that it looked fun when the tinker explained it. It’s a … something-in-the-box-or-other, and … oh, I only got one, I just realized, but you have two … Is that a problem?”
He could not help but smile at that.
“Please let me in. I really need this. Please?”
He did not want to. But her desperation seemed real, and she didn’t appear especially dangerous at this moment. Still, she was clearly intoxicated. Did he really want to admit her into his house, to his family, his children?
Hi gaze fell upon a lamppost in the street, and upon the winged shape perched atop the arm holding the lantern, which should certainly not be strong enough to support the weight of a human-sized creature.
Cerya did not appear to realize they were being watched.
“Let’s get this over with,” he muttered under his breath as he stepped back from the door and gestured her inside.
When she passed him, she laid a hand on his shoulder, a little too heavy, and came a little too close to him to look into his eyes.
“I don’t want to mess this up,” she said. “I’ll try. I didn’t choose to come here in this state. If I do anything stupid, just stop me, please, will you?”
“Sure. You might want to keep a little more distance from me, for a start.”
She looked down and back up to his face, as if just realizing their noses almost touched, and stepped back.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“Now come on in, speak as little as you can, try to remain seated until you feel a little more steady on your feet and if something seems funny to you, try not to laugh too loudly, okay?”
“You think they’ll notice?”
He nodded, smiling.
“They will. But they might not realize how bad it is if you keep a grip on yourself as best you can. Too late for second thoughts now. Do you think you’re ready?”
“As ready as I’m going to be. Thank you.”
He nodded, stepped alongside her to close the door and glanced outside at the lamppost. At first he thought the Angel was gone, but then he noticed the winged shadow crouching upon the windowsill of the house across the street.
She didn’t need to be here to watch, did She? She was simply making a show of Her presence to remind him of the will of Heaven, and Its implacable teeth.
For a moment, he considered telling Cerya about it, and asking her if she really wished to be a minion to these creatures, but finally decided that this was a subject for another day, and closed the door.
Profound Distress hoped she was doing well. Or, more precisely, she hoped it was not just her spaced-out condition that made her feel not all that spaced-out.
But it really felt as if everything was going smoothly. The children had beamed with pleasure at her gift, and although she was still not completely sure what it was, it was a great relief that it had pleased its audience. They hadn’t even fought about who would get to play with it. This was possibly because they were exceptionally well-raised, which seemed quite plausible considering Kimbal was their father, but also possibly because they simply adored Profound Distress.
Of course, she realized she needed to be particularly careful about this assessment, because Dust always made her feel as if everybody adored her and while she was not sure what exactly Glonn had mixed into her drink, Dust was certainly a major part of it.
The little ones hung on her lips and listened raptly. They laughed and giggled at her tales and gaped disbelievingly when she talked about the monstrous Angel she chatted with regularly.
Profound Distress was not fool enough not to know that part of the children’s amusement was due to her tipsiness and inability to pronounce certain words on the first or second attempt, but that was not all, and although Katra’s occasionally screwed up her face in helpless embarrassment when she thought Profound Distress wouldn’t notice, Kimbal had not kicked her shin yet, so she felt justified in being cautiously optimistic that she was not making a complete ass of herself.
Speaking of Katra.
Profound Distress had no idea how to feel about Kimbal’s wife, and little idea how Kimbal’s wife felt about her, which might have been worse.
Katra was polite towards her, obsequious even, but her behaviour seemed rather put-on, like the friendliness you might exhibit towards some large guy approaching you at night in a back alley and who might merely want to know the way to the Knackered Seahorse but might just as well be out to mug you. At least Cerya got her to drop the “Your Holiness”.
Was this simply because Profound Distress was a Cleric, or was it because of hers and Kimbal’s past? How much had he even told her? She felt an utter fool for not asking him beforehand, and now she didn’t know what it was possible to talk about and what not. So she concentrated on the children all the more, not least because it felt good to bask in their admiration.
Kimbal’s presence was painful. Not because he was cold or distant. He was as friendly as his wife, though in a less servile manner. But it felt horrible to be so close to him and yet to know that he was forever out of her reach.
Surprise, Cerya, she thought. Who could have expected that problem when accepting their invitation?
So the few sentences she exchanged with Kimbal and Katra were short, awkward and went nowhere, but luckily, they also seemed more than happy listening to her entertaining the children, possibly for the same reasons she herself was happy to do it.
So when the time came that the little ones had to be put to bed, Profound Distress decided that caution was the better part of valor, and to leave well enough alone for today. She felt much more clear-headed than she had when she arrived, but here was not a lot she trusted herself to do in order to leave a better impression, and much to make things worse.
“I guess I should be going, then.”
“Really?” Katra exclaimed, obviously having a short but furious debate in her own mind on whether to contradict her. “Well, if you insist…” she finally said, “But I think we should do this again, if you’d like to. It was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Certainly. We’ll find a date, I’m sure.”
Katra nodded vigorously and took her daughter by the hand.
“I’ll just … take them upstairs. Kimbal, will you take our guest to the door?”
Katra vanished, and Kimbal guided her to the exit. Before opening the door, he turned to her.
“Thank you,” he said, “For keeping your promise.”
She beamed at him, only now realizing in her relief how tense she’d been, how unsure about his reaction.
“I did my best. Sorry for my … condition. It was really not … well, never mind. Thank you for inviting me. I’m going to … I’ll … Is it alright if I hug you?”
He hesitated, but finally nodded with a patient smile that cut her deeply, but she decided to take what she could get, and hugged him, hard, like holding on to him for her life.
It felt good, wonderful in fact, for a moment, before she realized how he just stood there, stiff und uncertain, one hand hovering behind her back, the other weekly patting her shoulder.
Suddenly tears were in her eyes and she stepped back from him, sniffling.
“Cerya!” he exclaimed. “What’s wrong?”
“It hurts,” she replied. “I’m ashamed, and it hurts, and …”
“What are you talking about?”
She hesitated, then finally tried to explain: “You’re right there in front of me, but I cannot … You’re closed to me. Why can’t I just reach out and just touch you? You used to be eager for my touch. You used to beg me to kiss you. You used to want me, and I discarded you. It was always my choice, and now … I want you back, Kimbal. Why can’t I just reach out and touch you, because … I mean … You’re right there. Why don’t you look at me the way you used to? Why can’t I take it back? Because now I’m the one begging, Kimbal, I used to be too proud, but that’s over, I’m begging, I’m on my knees, and I wouldn’t even mind if you’d hear me. If you’d accept me.”
She’d known it was a mistake before she opened her mouth, but if she’d needed any confirmation, it was obvious in the way his brows drew together and his mouth hardened.
“I won’t, Cerya. That is over. You could have had me. You chose not to. It’s done. I’m done.”
She knew she should be silent, and just walk out the door now. But she couldn’t leave like this, while he looked at her like this. She could not stop herself from explaining, even while knowing it was no use.
“But I never … I – I want you, Kimbal. I want you now, I wanted you then. I never meant to – I just said it, and I never meant it, and I was too proud, but I’m not any more. I take it back. Please, Kimbal, I take it back, please forgive me, I need you!”
She heard the words come out of her mouth without any awareness of deciding to speak them.
Slowly, he shook his head, his eyes glistening slightly in the dim light. He seemed less affronted then before. Maybe she’d really managed to make him understand. “I forgive you, Cerya,” he said. “It’s alright. But there’s nothing to take back. It’s done.”
“She said She could make you love me, you know.”
His sad smile petrified as he blinked, incredulous.
“She offered to make you love me, but I said I did not want –“
“Are you threatening me? Are you threatening my family?”
She stared at him, her mouth open, until it dawned on her what he must have heard in her words. She had never even considered he might take it as a threat.
Or had she?
“No!” she hastened to say. “No, Kimbal, I’d never-“
“Just leave now,” he said very quietly. “Get out.”
“You have to believe me!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, I swear. Please let me explain what I-“
“No”, he answered, “Your Holiness. I will not. Just go now, please.”
“You… don’t have to call me that”, she muttered.
“I want to,“ he replied.
She left, and did not look back until she heard the door fall shut behind her. For a few minutes, she wandered through Iustok, aimless, quietly crying, until she saw the lights in a tavern window and heard the singing inside.
She knew she shouldn’t, but it was what she needed now.
When she finally crawled into Glonn’s bedroom late that night, begging him to love her, to tell that he wanted her, to take her in, be good to her, he was only too happy to oblige.
Book group questions:
- Keoni had some doubts about the guards‘ and Kimbal’s insolence toward the cleric. Did that disturb you as well?
- In Kimbal’s place, would you have followed Cerya? Why or why not?
- Do you think her visit with his family went well?
- Did you find the turn of events in the end convincing, or would you have liked me to explain it more?