~ (Continued) Hexday, 1st of Maius, 11831 ~
That night Pierre locked himself in his room. He had thought he dealt with the guilt, but he had just pushed it aside. He had made a lovely young woman a widow and now he learned he had taken away a child’s father. And Renaud! Oh, Renaud was almost mad wish grief and a desire to try and find his brother. Jourdain had disappeared and his brother had not noticed for so long. The idea that Aimé or Piers could be taken and Pierre not notice? And then be unable to help him as well.
But Feuilles had conspired with his sons to have him killed, that much had been evident. Perhaps it would be difficult to prove (how does one explain having tasted and known the poison and then not even been ill?) but he knew.
Pierre looked at the letter that Renaud had given him. Lord Eichel’s reply. Something sat heavy in the corner of it, betraying the answer before it was even opened. For all he worried about his brother, the young advisor had finished what he had been sent to do.
Half an hour after locking himself up Pierre exited the room and made his way out of the château. He refused to say where he was going, only taking the time to ease Elizabeth’s concern.
“I just need to think,” he told her after she stopped him in the hall. “And to be alone. I will be back soon.”
She thankfully did not pry, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. “Of course. Go on. I will stay and keep Cordelia company.”
Her smile was a spot of light.
Pierre threw a handful of coins to the coachman in the courtyard and told the driver to take him into town as the duc shut himself in the back. He did not have his cane with him, or the proper attire for the evening, and Pluta was not with him either. He found he could not bring himself to care.
The coach did not move for almost too long and as he was about to open the door and complain when the horses turned around.
Pierre sat back, fiddling with his hands. There was no deck of cards in his pocket to keep him occupied. He was alone with his thoughts.
The burden of a murder had never before his him with such guilt. Was this due to his humors being in disarray, a manifestation of being more in tune with Faery? Or had Mora at all other times taken this guilt away and without her favor he felt what horrid thing he had truly done.
It felt as if he were in the coach for an eternity before they stopped in town.
Pierre got out of the coach after a faint shout told him they were at their destination, turning to tell the driver not to wait for him, when he saw that Sabine was being helped down from up front. Had he walked into her chosen carriage without realizing it? Or had she known he was going and followed him?
Sabine thanked the coachman and made her way to Pierre, holding out an arm and waiting for him to take it as her escort as if nothing were wrong. She said nothing but was smiling gently. It felt like the smile of a friend, of family. Pierre swallowed, and did as a gentleman should, taking her arm. She also handed him a hat-box which he dutifully took in his free hand. It was far heavier than it should be.
They walked together down the dim street.
“It will not be the last time you take a life and see dire consequences,” she said, breaking the silence.
“So you heard what I did.”
“I have. I am sure you had your reasons to kill him. And I have done worse and felt worse, I assure you.”
He wanted to reply that she had not, but he was not certain of that fact. She had been a confidante of death for a long time.
“I know what it is like to be without a father,” he said instead. “And mine merely disappeared when I was a child. I knew him for a time. And then I had Uncle, and the roi as another father… yet I still plan to kill Renaud if I can, and the comte after him. From what I know Cordelia has no family left herself. I will be leaving her and that child alone.”
“They tried to take your life. Would have succeeded were you anyone but Death’s favorite. The punishment for such treason is death. The method you used was illegal, but through the courts it would have been very similar. At least you spared the woman a trial and watching her husband hang.”
It was not very assuring.
“I wish to show you something,” she continued. “Will you accompany me?”
“Of course, madame. By all means lead the way.”
Sabine lead them to the town square and to the large church that dominated the eastern side. It was old, elegant, and vines were allowed to grow among the stone. Pierre had not been there yet from his arrival, but he knew that Elizabeth went once in a while to pray. It felt familiar, no doubt he had been there as a child.
As the two practitioners of necrocræft walked up the last few steps they saw a mouse sitting by the door. Upon seeing them it squeaked and ran inside through a crack in the wood.
Pierre managed a smile “Pluta should be with me. She would like to run after some new mice.”
It was silent when they entered the narthex. Candles were lit at the entrance though, welcoming any that needed time with God no matter the hour.
Before they walked very far into the building an elderly priest came up to greet them.
“Ah, Sabine!” he said, opened his arms. She let go of Pierre and moved over to hug the older man. “I was wondering if you were ill when you did not come by earlier. I am glad you are well! And who is this with you?”
“Father Isidore, I am here with His Grace. He has had some trouble tonight and perhaps you may wish to speak with him?”
The priest nodded, opening his arms again as if he would embrace Pierre as well, but he only clasped the man on the shoulder. “Yes, I remember you, though you have grown quite a bit since then, Your Grace. Come, come, Pierre, it has been many years since I have seen you.”
Sabine took from Pierre the too-heavy hat box and allowed the priest to maneuver him to the main church. Despite the late hour and his older age it seemed the priest was not bothered.
They sat in the back pews, while Sabine made her way to the front to sit and pray.
“I do not know how much I can say,” Pierre began. “I can try and explain, but…”
“While this is not an official Confession I will not break confidence, Your Grace,” the priest replied. “No matter what ails you. I am a doctor of the spirit and you need to speak freely to mend the wound. If you then wish to Confess and repent I will also administer the sacrament.”
“I… A man is dead because of me. And while I believe it was justified the consequences reach far. His wife is now a widow, and I have recently found out that she is in fact with child. I cannot help but feel guilt. I wish I could bring him back.” That that likely was in his power made this somehow worse. He could undo this great crime, and a large part of him wished to, yet not enough to do so.
Isidore nodded. “That is understandable, Pierre. It would be nice if the dead could return to life, no? Many would rejoice with their loved ones returning. Of course the dead themselves may wish to stay dead.”
“There is a cræft,” Pierre whispered involuntarily. He froze as he spoke the words and hoped he was not heard. The hope was in vain.
“Oui, there is,” Father Isidore said. “I have heard the confessions of men and women, those who killed for Mora, who returned the dead to this plane, who took their own lives to meet her. Oh, do not look so surprised, you are the duc, I am sure you know there are many whom she entices.
“Some turn away from the cræft in time. Others did not. Some try to use it for good and are nonetheless corrupted. It is not a cræft, I believe, that is meant for human hands.”
“Then for whose hands?”
“That I do not know. The keres are gone beside Mora herself… I have seen plagues wipe out entire towns because death can only be chained by one for so long. When she bursts free the streets run with blood. There need to be more at her side, but who? Maybe it is good that some sacrifice themselves to help her.”
Pierre nodded, looking down at his own hands, covered in satin gloves to hide the evidence of his cræft. Perhaps that was the true meaning of Mora’s last test? If he had stayed would he have become as the keres? He had clearly been wrong when assuming he would be her equal upon returning, maybe he was also wrong about being her inferior if he had stayed. Why had she simply not explained?
He would ask her. When—if—she returned to him.
The priest took hold of one of Pierre’s hands in comfort. He wore no gloves, and Pierre felt a few old scars on his palm.
“Come speak with me again,” he said. “Whenever you wish. Would you like to Confess?”
“Non, not right now. But another day. Soon.” A Confession was valid only if one too repented, and desired to no longer commit the crimes said. As he had no plans to stop it would turn the sacrament into a mockery.
The priest stood and Pierre did as well, but Isidore did not leave the church, going to the front and sitting down near Sabine. The duc hesitantly followed.
“Better?” Sabine asked Pierre. He nodded and smiled weakly. She turned back to the priest, “Father Isidore, if you would please come help us in renewing our vows tonight?”
“As always it is my pleasure.”
“Please stay, Your Grace.”
Isidore lead Sabine over to the altar, hat-box still in her arms. She knelt, placing it before her and then reaching inside to pull out a skull. She held it carefully, caressed it gently, and her eyes grew soft as she looked over the head. Pierre felt uncomfortable intruding on such intimacy. She had known this person and very well.
“I would like you to meet someone,” she said.
She pricked her finger with a pin taken from her hair, letting the blood fall on top of the skull. She drew a symbol with it and placed the skull in front of her. She then traced the same symbol over her heart.
Death and magia filled the air.
A man then stood next to Sabine. He was young, in his 20s, with thick dark brown hair. His clothes were formal and a bit out of style, wearing a coat that Pierre had only seen some of his older teachers wearing. He seemed very pale and when he stepped in front of candlelight the rays shone through him.
He bent down to help Sabine stand.
Pierre saw that her own appearance was different now as well, young again, the same age as the ghost if not younger.
“Now, my dear,” the ghost chided, running a hand through her hair and cupping her cheek. “Let me see how you truly look, not as you believe I wish to see you.”
Sabine sighed good-naturedly and flicked her fingers, shooing spirits of youth away from her. It was not a gradual transformation, but an instant, and there stood an older woman with brittle grey hair before him. She was not ugly, or frail, but age had affected her and her skin was soft and muscles few.
The ghost kissed her.
“That is her husband,” Isidore said. “Gaétan, Lord Dorian’s younger brother. Tonight is their anniversary. She comes every year to meet with him on the day his spirit is closest to her so they can renew their wedding vows.”
The priest walked over to them, raising his arms again in greeting. They spoke a short time before the ceremony began. Pierre stayed, watching, as the confidante of death proclaimed her love for her dead husband.
After the duc had left, Gaétan turned to his wife. She was again in the form she preferred- not too old but neither too young.
“You do not have much longer,” he told her. “Within the year, my darling, you will die.”
She nodded as if the information was not new to her. It had been a feeling, but the confirmation settled against her heart comfortably, not with anxiety.
“I have a lived a long life. I have missed you. I do not balk from death and being with you again, my love.”