Conversation and laughter swelled around me, and the Cathedral del Sol was alive with color. Red and white streamers were hung from the stately pipe organ, festoons of green and gold were hung from the previously unadorned balcony, and tapestries of blue, violet, silver and gold were hung on the white walls.
The cathedral already seemed full when Mercy, Sister Love and I arrived with large boxes of decorations. The men from the pilgrim’s quarters had volunteered to bring them, but the boxes had been stored in a shed that lay too near the tower for Abbess Joy to allow general admission, so the men had to content themselves with meeting us at the door to help us bear the boxes inside.
I had never seen the cathedral so full of people. I generally avoided prayer services, and would only approach the cathedral when I was certain few pilgrims would be present, such as a choir practice or to hear Celeste play the organ. Even though there was no service planned, many pilgrims had come to watch the decorations go up, and some were helping the sisters.
When I walked inside, a muscular young man detached himself from his party and came toward me, holding out his hands as though to take the heavy box. Then he paused abruptly- his eyes fixed on my uncovered face.
“It’s alright,” I said quietly. “I’m not a sister. I haven’t taken any vows to veil myself.”
“They say- they say that you are…” His face went red and his voice seemed to fail him. He turned and fled into the crowd without another word.
A tall bearded man had been watching this exchange, his eyebrows raised in interest. When the young man fled, the bearded man stepped forward and took his place.
“Well met, my Lady,” he said with a gallant bow. As he stooped forward, a silver pendant slipped from under his collar and swung freely to his chest, bearing the same symbol Miss Taris had worn. He took hold of the pendant and held it up for me to see, placing a finger to the side of his nose. Then he slipped it back into his robes.
I tried in vain to shield the surprise from my face. The bearded man’s pale eyes twinkled with laughter.
“Please accept my apologies on behalf of that cowardly young man,” the bearded man said. “Not all of us pay heed to the rumors.”
“I am not at all surprised that people are whispering about me,” I said as the man took the box from me. “Thank you, Mr-”
“I beg your pardon- I have you at a disadvantage. I am Resolve Wilcox, at your service.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wilcox.”
Mr. Wilcox tried to bow again, but made an awkward job of it as he was still carrying the box. I reached out to steady the box, and we continued.
“Where do you want this box, my Lady?”
“The Abbess said it should be placed near the altar. I believe it contains the large candelabras.”
“I can well believe it, considering the weight of this box. I am surprised a lady such as yourself was able to carry it so far.”
“I am stronger than I look,” I said.
“I daresay you are. Still, you should not have to bear so much.” He place the box down near the altar, and then turned to bow low to me, again.
“We stand behind you and your excellent husband, my Lady. If you need any assistance in the future, ask for me, or look for this symbol,” he tapped his chest, where the pendant was hidden. “It is an honor to bear your burden.”
I blinked, unable to think of what to say to such a declaration.
He smiled, his eyes twinkling again. “May the light of wisdom guide you through the chaos, my Lady.”
Then he turned and walked back into the crowd.
“I’ve never heard it said that way,” I heard Celeste say. I turned to see that she was sitting nearby, tying colored ribbons around white candles. “It’s usually ‘may light guide you through the chaos.”
“Indeed it is. People seem to be discussing wisdom very often, lately.”
“Wisdom is a good thing.” Celeste paused and bit her lip in concentration as she straightened a bow. “Miss Taris says that there is not enough wisdom in the world, and that most people are fools.”
Prudence climbed up to the altar with her arms full of unadorned candles, laughing under her veil.
“Please don’t listen to Miss Taris. I do not look forward to your adolescence if you allow yourself to become so cynical at almost eleven.”
Celeste ignored the remark and turned to me. “My birthday is on Chaosmas eve. I thought everyone in the world celebrated my birthday, when I was a child.”
“When you were a child?” Prudence dropped the candles in a heap near Celeste with a sigh. “I give up; it’s already begun.”
Celeste shot Prudence a glare that showed she was not amused, and then pressed a basket of decorated candles into her mother’s hands.
“These are ready- you need to place one in the sconce at the end of each pew.”
“Yes ma’am,” Prudence said with a mock bow as she took the basket.
Prudence turned away with her candles, accidentally hitting another sister in the process.
“I beg your pardon, Sis-” Prudence began, but the Sister ran past without a word, and Prudence was left staring after her in astonishment.
“Finish with the candles- I will see what is wrong,” I said, and turned to follow the Sister.
The Sister moved so quickly that I almost lost her in the crowd, but everyone who saw me moved aside quickly to let me pass. As soon as I was outside, I spotted her running back toward the Abbey.
“Wait- please slow down,” I called.
The sister paused on the road, and then turned back to me. She threw back her veil, revealing Innocence’s face.
“Well,” she said, “what do you want?”
“You ran through the Cathedral without even noticing Sister Jubilee,” I said. “What is the
“You may keep your concerns to yourself. I have recently learned a hard lesson; friendship is false,” she sneered.
“What happened?” I persisted.
Innocence turned away and walked a few paces before turning back to me, as though unsure of what to do next.
“I thought I would hide myself away from the Pilgrims as you usually do,” Innocence said. “You are wiser than I am.”
“Have the pilgrims recognized you? If you are being harassed-”
“No- no one would care who I was even if I removed my veil in the cathedral and shouted my name aloud. I’ve lost all of my importance since I left St. Blanc. I’m nothing extraordinary. There are other pilgrims here who are in my position- some of the Prince’s former favorites who have fled. They bring tales about the Prince’s madness and worse- evil omens.”
“Evil omens?” I said. “Of what nature?”
“According to the rumors, the horoscope that Father Pius drew for the Prince’s coronation contains a sign of war and destruction. It’s all superstition and nonsense, of course, but I would rather not hear such stories, anymore. I’ve thrown my life away because of stories.”
Innocence turned again and walked away. I began to follow, but was distracted by a clatter on the road behind me. The sound grew louder, and I turned to see a huge, canvas-covered caravan approaching, followed by a small wagon.
I stepped forward, drawn to the caravan by curiosity. Soon it was close enough for me to recognize the person who drove it.
I waved at him, and then ran to meet him as the caravan clattered to a stop.
“Well, this is a welcome sight!” Mr. Filius called. He jumped down from the box and
shook my hand warmly. “I am relieved, Lady Frey, to find you looking so well.”
“I owe that to my friends,” I said, “and I’m glad to meet another friend here.”
The small wagon rolled to a stop behind Mr. Filius’s carriage, and a familiar young man descended from the box.
“I believe you’ve met my other apprentice, Honest,” Mr. Filius said, gesturing to the young man, who bowed cordially. “Of course, he will soon be a journeyman.”
“Is that so?” I turned to Honest, who wore a sheepish grin. “Congratulations.”
Mr. Filius turned to wave at a small crowd of pilgrims that were gathering at the cathedral door to gape at the strange sight of the caravan. Honest drew me behind the mound of canvas, away from their eyes.
“I haven’t polished my work,” he said in a low voice, “and I still have to present my findings to the guild, but I’ve completed the task Mr. Filius set for me.”
“I wish you luck with all of my heart, and if you need any assistance-”
Honest laughed a little. “Mr. Filius hasn’t let me forget that your admittance depends on my work. But I am as glad to accept your help as you are to give it, I imagine.” His smile faded a little as he regarded me with his wide, ernest eyes. “Lady Frey, is there any way I can assist you?”
“You have not turned away from me. You have not called me a witch or the devil’s whore. It is help enough that you shake my hand and meet me as a friend.”
“Lady Frey! Lady Frey!” I heard Celeste call from the other side of the caravan without restraint. “Do look at the caravan. What could be inside?”
Honest and I went to see that Celeste already being scolded away from the caravan by Prudence. Mr. Filius, however, knelt by Celeste with a good natured chuckle.
“You aren’t the only one who is curious about my cargo. I was stopped on the road three times on the way from the hill country.”
“Oh!” Celeste said excitedly. “Did you have to fight bandits?”
“No no- my girl. The roads are much safer lately for uninteresting travelers. Inquisitors stopped us, instead”
“Inquisitors?” Prudence stepped forward.
“Oh yes. They had a mind to search the whole caravan, but each time they grew tired of searching after the first five layers of canvas.”
Abbess Joy came through the gathering crowd. “It’s so good to see you here again, Mr.
Filius,” she said warmly.
“It is good to be here, Abbess,” Mr. Filius said with a nod of respect.
“There is still room in the stables. Where did you mean to take the…” she gestured to the mound of canvas on the caravan.
“To the field behind the abbey, if that is alright.”
Abbess Joy nodded her consent. “If you will excuse us- we have had a hard day’s work. Lady Frey and Sister Jubilee, please join me in my office for tea.” She gave Mr. Filius with a significant look. “I trust I will see you soon.”
Mr. Filius nodded again, and then climbed back onto the box. He drove the caravan away, taking a crowd of curious onlookers with him, as Abbess Joy led the way back to the abbey.