The Coven- Part XLIX

Around his prey, the eagle flies,

His wing the sail, his sea the skies,

Sharp eyes to view our sins below,

Sharp cries to warn the coming blow.

 

The eagle’s prey, the scarlet rose,

Is crowned with silk, and thorns his clothes,

When thorns and talons clash like steel,

King Uriel they shall reveal.

 

“It’s a strange poem, isn’t it, Lady Grace?” Celeste asked, placing the book on her knee.

“I’ve heard something like it before,” I said, thinking of the book I’d stolen from the palace, and the Tale of the Fallen Six. “Where did you find this book?”

“In the calefactory,” Celeste said, sliding off of her bed to put the book back on her desk.

I had been sitting with Celeste in her cell, reading bedtime stories by lamplight. Celeste had made the room her own, filling the tiny chamber with as many comforts as would fit. A colorful quilt, which she’d sewn with the sisters in the calefactory, covered her cot. A sketch was pinned to the wall- a drawing that Hope had made of the fountains at St. Blanc and had sent to her with one of his letters. On Celeste’s desk, the golden haired doll sat atop a stack of books, wearing a handkerchief on its head like a veil, and on another stack of books was a yellow sol-flower in a cup.

Among these simple comforts Celeste slept as soundly as a queen, and yet it pained me that I could not do more for her. The cell was the same size of her closet in the nursery at Rowan Heights, yet she’d seemed perfectly able to adjust to her surroundings. How many times, I wondered, had she had to make herself comfortable in a new bedroom?

“Who is Uriel?” Celeste asked, turning back from her desk.

“According to some stories, Uriel was the first High King of Aeterna, appointed by the Gods. These tales are only legend; history tells us that the first King of Aeterna was Innocent I.”

“Why do you believe history instead of the tales?” Celeste asked.

“I believe the historians because they have evidence to support their claims. The church has stored Aeterna’s founding documents in their archives, all of which are signed by King Innocent I. The Prince can trace his lineage to Innocent I, which is why he is claiming his right to the Aeternan throne. Also, the Cathedral Lux was built by King Innocent I, and I’ve seen the plaque that he impressed with his handprint in the cathedral antechamber.”

“That makes sense,” Celeste said. “But Uriel might have been King before all of that. Maybe his evidence was lost.”

“Perhaps,” I admitted. “But until more evidence is found, there’s no reason for us to believe that Uriel existed anywhere but in stories.”

Celeste nodded as though satisfied, but I found myself feeling strangely unsatisfied. Something about the poem, the stolen book, and the symbol of the eagle was prompting my mind to venture in odd directions.

“Celeste,” I finally said. “I have something that you may like to see. Wait here.”

I went to my own cell and returned with the silver, eagle-embossed locket. I handed it to Celeste, who opened it eagerly.

“This is very pretty. Who is this girl? Wait- I think I know her…”

Celeste removed her spectacles and squinted at the miniature. “This is wrong, but I can’t tell how it’s wrong. Who is it?”

“This is your mother’s likeness. It was taken when she was a very young girl.”

“It is.”  Celeste said with a sudden smile. “Oh, how pretty she was! But- why did she change?”

Before I could stop her, Celeste opened the door and dashed down the hall. She threw open Sister Jubilee’s door without knocking.

“Sister Jubilee!” she said. “I want to show you something.”

“Celeste, what have I told you about knocking?” Sister Jubilee emerged from her cell, smoothing her veil as though she’d just thrown it on. I followed Celeste, half disappointed that I’d missed seeing Sister Jubilee’s face, and half ashamed of feeling the disappointment. 

“I want to show you this picture. Lady Grace said that this is my mother.”

Sister Jubilee knelt down and opened the locket. She sat silently for a long time, as though trying to make out each detail through the gauzy veil. Then she handed the locket back to Celeste.

“Your mother was very pretty,” she said.

“Can people- can people change a lot as they get older?” Celeste asked.

“Sometimes they can. Time can change the prettiest young girl into an old crone, and if someone goes through many hardships, time has an even greater effect.”

“I see.” Celeste took the locket back and kissed it. “Then I’m glad I got to see this picture.”

Sister Jubilee stood, but did not reply.

“Abbess Joy!” Celeste said suddenly, and she ran to the other end of the hall where Abbess Joy was approaching. “I want to show you my mother, too!”

“Your mother?” Abbess Joy said, blinking down at Celeste in surprise.

Celeste opened the locket and handed it to Abbess Joy. As Abbess Joy was examining the miniature, Sister Jubilee came closer to me.

“Why did you show her?” she asked in a harsh whisper.

“Why wouldn’t I?” I asked. “My own mother died when I was a baby, and I’ve always wished that I could see her likeness more than anything else.”

“Abbess Joy must not have had any hardships,” Celeste said, taking Abbess Joy’s hand and leading her back to Sister Jubilee and me.

“Why do you say that?” Sister Jubilee said.

“Because Sister Love told me that Abbess Joy is very old, but Abbess Joy is still pretty.”

Abbess Joy laughed. “Thank you for the compliment, Celeste. Everyone has their share of hardships, but I hope I’ve borne mine well.”

Sister Jubilee sighed. “Celeste, it is very late, and we have early prayer, tomorrow.”

“I was just on my way to bed,” Celeste said. She kissed Sister Jubilee on the cheek, and then turned to kiss Abbess Joy and I, as well.

“May I keep the locket, for a while?” Celeste asked. “I promise I will be careful.”

“Of course,” I said. “She is your mother, after all.”

 

#

 

Later that evening, when everyone else was asleep, Sister Jubilee knocked quietly on my door and beckoned for me to follow her. We made our way without a lantern up the hill to the old lighthouse and entered silently, as though in reverence.

We went upstairs, stopping at the second story laboratory. Sister Jubilee went straight to the table and started working without a word. She fiddled with some of the devices, which glinted in the electric light, and wrote notes in a battered book that lay open on the table.

After watching Sister Jubilee work for several moments, I turned to examine the nearby shelves, which were full of books of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Sister Jubilee, however, looked up from her work and called me away from the tantalizing books.

“Don’t read those, yet,” she said. “They must be studied in the correct order, or they will make no sense. There- have a seat.”

She gestured to a stool that stood across the table from her, away from the largest instruments. As I sat, she took her own seat and rolled up her voluminous sleeves to the elbow.

“Where shall we begin?” she said in a businesslike manner. “Have you read anything by Lord Tolemus?”

“I’ve read his Treatise on Sacred Geometry, as well as Divine Proofs and The Theorems.”

“Excellent- Lord Tolemus is one of our few contemporaries whose writings are remotely sane.”

“If you feel that way, then you must not have read Lord Aston, Sir Reginald, Sir Boromir, Brother Apollion…”

“I only have a passing familiarity with Sir Boromir, but I wouldn’t really consider him a contemporary. The rest that you mention are brilliant men- giants in their fields- but they are all insane. To be human is to be insane, and it is a long and arduous journey to sanity.”

I leaned my elbows on the table. Fatigue was setting in, though the room’s lights were far too bright to allow for sleepiness.

“I must admit that my experiences over the past few months have led me to question the very definition of sanity,” I said. “I’m ready to re-learn everything I thought I knew.”

“Are you willing to learn even if you must study nights instead of going to the telescope?” Sister asked, putting her own elbows on the table and leaning toward me.

“I fear that sanity may be elusive if I can’t go to the telescope.”

“If you know you must re-learn sanity, then how can you be certain that the telescope will be necessary?”

I closed my eyes to consider my answer. The electric lights were distractingly bright, but I could not block them out. I repeated to myself that they were harmless and then re-ordered my thoughts.

“The stars help me to accept what is, no matter how fantastic,” I said. “They are the most fantastic things there are, yet I can examine them with my own eyes and verify that they follow natural laws.”

Sister Jubilee remained silent for several moments. “I see your point,” she finally said. “In fact, that helps me understand how I’ve kept my own sanity. Don’t smile at me in that manner- I have a tighter grip on sanity than anyone else in this room.”

I bit my lip. “Of course.”

“I have one more question I would ask you before…” Sister Jubilee stopped, sighed, and put her head in her hands. “No- it would be pointless to ask. I’ve already decided.”

“What have you decided?”

Sister Jubilee stood and walked around the table, stopping next to me. She held out her hand.

“Since Mr. Filius won’t return until after Chaosmas, I’ve agreed to take you on as my apprentice. Do you accept?”

I stood as well. “I don’t know- perhaps I should interview you as you have interviewed me, to see if I wish to take you on as a teacher.”

“I should refuse to teach you and ban you from this tower,” she said exasperatedly.

“It’s too late. You’ve already given me the key.”

Sister Jubilee sputtered in protest. I laughed, satisfied that I’d taken the advantage in our verbal sparring for the first time, and took her hand.

“Sister Jubilee, I am intrigued beyond words to learn what you have to teach me. I would be honored to be your apprentice.”

Interlude

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