Herlewin was a large sack of emotions as he raised his fist to knock upon Father Terric’s door.
The sack’s contents comprised remorse, at waking an old man up at this hour of the night; humiliation, at waking up a priest while his extravagantly nude, gargantuan girlfriend fucked her way through the north gate; and shame at his blazing, desperate hopefulness for an easy solution to their predicament, among many other churning, swirling thoughts. The sack was full-to-bursting, wearing at the seams for having borne this load for so long. It was so heavy, it nearly held back his fist from rapping upon the heavy oak door, less out of weariness and more out of dread for an unbearable disappointment. And that, less for his longing for normalcy and more for respite for his beleaguered Mazelina.
But he knocked, and knocked hard, because it was Mazelina who suffered him while he was a buzzing, florid little pest for most of the month, and he only got three days to shoulder his half of their burden. He knocked again when the door wasn’t immediately answered, with only a little remorse when the heavy door was hauled open by a weathered and frail old man.
Father Terric, holding a taper and dressed in a long flannel gown with the pelt of some brown animal around his shoulders, needed a moment to focus and recognize his visitor. “What a rare surprise,” he said, his persistent sad expression permitting a grin. “Arnald told me to expect you, but I, ah, didn’t know whether you’d visit. I’m given to understand you have a brief reprieve from your, er, condition? Is that right?”
“Sorry, Father,” Herlewin said, his very round eyes glowing in the candlelight. “I wouldn’t plague you, weren’t it an emergency. If you could just…” He cast his gaze hopefully over the old man’s shoulder. Father Terric gave a little gasp and did a dancing little backstep to admit the rogue to the rectory. “It’s just as you say: I’ve scant time and a goodly load of work to break into.” He glanced around the meeting room, with several nice leather chairs arranged around a low table before a hearth, then bounced on his toes a moment before asking to see the library through gritted teeth. When the old man flinched at his ferocity, Herlewin grimaced and fished a couple gold coins out of the pouch on his belt. “I really am sorry, Father. I know I’m putting you out. It’s just that I’m a little desperate and time’s weighing on me, and I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. No excuse for lashing out at you, sure, but you understand.”
Father Terric’s brow creased even deeper with sympathy. He clutched the younger man’s shoulder, clutched it again to really impart the weight of his empathy, then turned and tugged open another door in the central column of the building. This one was oak like the entrance but bound in iron as well. “And it’s underground,” he explained, leading the rogue down unevenly carved stone steps, “because a collection like this really is a treasury in the kingdom. If you and your partner have the time, you really should visit Lowestoft Tower. Their collection isn’t as large as this one, admittedly,” he said, pausing to raise an eyebrow at his visitor, who only grinned tightly and waved him on, “but it is nonetheless considerable.”
“Pretty sure Mazelina just came back form Lowestoft, actually,” said Herlewin. “They sent us here.”
The old man paused again and regarded him with a gravity that stilled the younger. “Gods adorn the earth. If the sapiomancers sent you here, then I believe it’s not merely time you’re running out of. If you’ll pardon my reflection.”
Herlewin frowned deeply. “I think you’ve as sound a grasp of the situation as any, Father.” Sharing a meaningful glance, they descended into the stacks without another word.
Parked at a table, Herlewin pored over the tomes that Father Terric produced. “This one focuses on herbalism,” the old man said, flipping to the relevant chapter, “and this one explores the nature and, ah, condition of the human spirit. I’ve a slim alchemical treatise around here somewhere, but I doubt it’s as useful as a certain book I’m thinking of, one that uses chemistry as an, er, introductory foundation for morphic resonance, again, a more spiritual exploration…” He wandered off into tall rows of shelves, any one of which could have ransomed a king, between the jewelry on the books’ covers, the gold illuminating their pages, and the amassed wisdom painstakingly recorded in elegant prose.
At the street level, guards and farmers took up pitchforks, hoes, and long branches, waving these at the legs of a gigantic woman, as close as they dared. She swung her auburn-maned head to snarl at the tiny people. Her huge arms shot out to grasp them, and she bellowed her disapproval as they learned to leap and roll out of the way. Their tiny implements couldn’t hurt her, not meaningfully, but they were irritating enough to nudge her out of the front gate.
When the moon-madded giantess stepped through the portal and found herself confronted with the wilderness, her mindset and goals changed completely. The guards sighed with relief as her heavy stride stomped off in pursuit of new adventures; the farmers gazed longingly at the massive buttocks dancing merrily in the moonlight, receding into the distance.
“Oh dear,” said Father Terric, in the quiet of the cellar library. He rested the oversized tome he’d been carrying upon three others and bent to gently shake Herlewin’s shoulder as he sprawled on the table. “Come, come, brave sir. Surely this can’t have been such a trial, for someone so vital and bold as yourself.” He drew a seat beside the slumbering visitor.
The rogue shook his head and blinked, glancing around. With some embarrassment he wiped a spot of drool from between the pages of a large text of… he didn’t know what. “I’m sorry, Father. It’s all shite. I’m glad as feck you let me in here, in the small hours and all, but I’m sorry. None of this makes any sense to me.” He gestured at the open book he’d slept upon, beside two more open books. “It’s gibberish piled upon gibberish, with shite illustrations in case you didn’t twig the gibberish. I genuinely do not know how you do it.” His mouth parted in a lapse of composition as he gazed up at the old man with soft brown eyes.
“None of it sounded familiar to you?” asked the priest. “None of it resonated with you at all? Sometimes you have to take it all in, and then in a moment of quiet you’ll feel one parcel of information drift toward another, like a drake seeking his duck upon the gently flowing stream.” He smiled, pleased with his extemporaneous poetry.
“No, this is what I don’t get,” Herlewin stated firmly, planting his fingertip upon the page. “And this,” he said, moving it one paragraph north, “and this, and this, and this. What is this shite? The liver is like a little mill that produces the blood? And blood is made of four humors?” His brow furrowed as he squinted at the old man. “The feck is a humor, and why do we have four of them?”
Father Terric raised a gentle hand. “We’re digging in the tall grass, as it were, getting mired in the weeds. If that doesn’t speak to you–”
“And the soul of a human is formed by blood traveling from the liver to the heart? How much of this do you actually believe, Father?”
“What must be understood is that much of this is an analogy, but a useful analogy that explains, in the absence of–”
“I’ve opened enough bodies, Father, for business and for fun, that I may refute with empirical experience better than half the shite in this overworked and gaudy tome.”
The priest frowned. “The good reader will understand, as a matter of course, that these are works in progress, being improved upon all the time–”
“And the heart produces smoky vapors that are expelled through the lungs?” Herlewin folded his arms. “Now, is that the byproduct of smithing an immortal spirit, or are we gasping out fragments of our soul with every waking hour?”
“It’s, eh, an analogy, to be sure, but even these thin words enshroud greater truths that–”
“Any more lofty flatulence, Father, and I’ll boot you in the emunctories.”
The priest slammed his palm upon the table with such force, even the rogue jumped in his seat. “If the amassed sum of human wisdom is so bloody useless to you,” cried Father Terric, “then I’ll presume no further upon your graces and show you to the door with all expedience.”
Herlewin hissed with remorse. “Ah, that is, Father,” he said. “I’m very sorry for my temper, good sir. By no stretch do you deserve the brunt of my disappointment with my limited faculties. Here I am, seated before the latest and best of all human understanding, and you might as well have presented it to a hungry dog. And for all I know, the answer lies in these books, but I simply don’t have the… you know. The patience, the education, the wherewithal to dig it out and recognize it. I’m pretty fecking useless to the task, is what I’m trying to say, Father.”
Father Terric paused, then his mouth formed an O amid his snowy beard and he retracted his limbs. “I begin to perceive this is, ah, asking an awful lot of you. Not that you aren’t up to the task, given a month of training and preparation, let us say. But now you find yourself thrust into a wholly alien role with, let us say, substantial considerations at stake. You’re, er, perhaps in the middle of hating yourself, even as you desperately scry some resolution to the, eh, predicament in which you find yourself.”
Herlewin cast a weary gaze upon the sympathetic figure. “What would you do in my straits?”
“You may not like it,” said the priest carefully, “but I would get as much sleep as I could. And then I would see what the world looked like when I awoke,” he added determinedly over the rogue’s protest.