The next two days passed quietly at the seaside shrine. During the day I kept vigil with Abbess Joy beside my mother’s grave, and at night Dare told me the stories that had been handed down from ancient to ancient over the centuries.
At first, I tried to compare Dare’s tales with the ones I’d read in the stolen book, and to compare both against the litanies and the historical record in order to deduce an accurate history. However, as I listened to the dreamlike cadence of Dare’s voice under the starlit skies, I realized that I was being foolish.
The different versions of history I’d read did not vary because of mistakes they had made- they were not meant to be an accurate record. Each story was a message for the listener, like a myth or a fairy tale, and my desperate search for accuracy was deafening me to the intended message.
“… and so Julia loved Death with all her heart,” Dare concluded on the final night, “but she could only be with him once she’d given birth to Jealousy’s child.”
I wiped a tear from my eyes, but I was able to keep from sighing aloud. Nevertheless, Dare turned toward me and smiled.
“Why do young people always cry when they hear this tale? Julia was happy, in the end.”
“I understand the story’s intent,” I said, wiping away another tear, “but I can’t help but cry. Julia didn’t lose herself to someone else’s desires, but death is also a way to lose oneself.”
“Then how would you chose, if you were given the same choice?”
“I don’t know. I wish I could have everything; I wish I could possess an immortal soul and remain true to myself.”
Dare gazed at me for a long time in the starlight, her pale eyes flicking back and forth as though searching for something.
“When you were born, it seemed like a sign from the Gods. You are half-blood, but you are still the first ancient born free since the war ended. I wondered if you might free us all, some day.”
“I will try. The current danger to the Ancient race is far worse than I’ve conveyed to you. Not only does Father Pius hate us, but he knows a dangerous secret; he knows how to use magic against us.”
Dare’s eyes went wide. “I’ve never heard of such a secret. Magic can’t hurt us.”
“That’s what I believed, too, but Father Pius was able to turn my own resistance to magic against me.”
Dare shook her head. “These are dangerous times. I will warn the others.”
“Thank you. In the meantime, I will think of what else may be done.” I stood and looked up, where the path of souls shone clearly against the velvet sky. “I swear on the earth below and the heavens above that I will try to free our people and all others who are enslaved.”
The next morning, Abbess Joy stood and walked away from my mother’s grave. Together we bid farewell to Dare and returned to the abbey.
Abbess Joy had regained her composure- her eyes were as clear as the blue sky, and her countenance was serene once more.
“Grief never really diminishes,” Abbess Joy said as we walked along the shore, “but we grow strong enough to carry it. I’m sorry I haven’t been stronger for your sake. I’m sorry I let you see my grief so plainly.”
“On the contrary- you have given me what I longed for most. You’ve shown me who my mother was, and the love you expressed for her showed me more than the pictures or letters.”
Abbess Joy paused and took my hand, giving it a quick squeeze before she dropped it to continue.
“When Harmony died, she left a hole in the world. I wish I’d had the power to grant her a soul.”
“Abbess, I’ve heard all of my life that a soul is the essence of a person’s self. But my own feelings and Dare’s stories tell me something else entirely- that it is quite possible to be whole without one. Do you know what a soul really is?”
Abbess Joy looked toward the cathedral spire, which loomed higher and higher in the sky as we approached the abbey. She slowed her pace, as though to prolong our conversation.
“I know what a soul is, but it’s difficult to explain in words you will understand. As you advance in scientific understanding, perhaps I will be able to give you a clearer idea, but for now all I can express are feelings.”
She pushed back her cowl, running her hands through her shining hair in thought.
“You are quite right that a person can be wholly oneself without a soul. To have a soul is to be more than oneself.”
“Dare said that a person’s soul will join with all other’s souls after they die. She spoke of this as a kind of violation.”
“I understand why the idea is frightening to the soulless,” Abbess Joy said. “Perhaps that fear is what made the ancients reject Order’s gift. There is really nothing to fear. I know because I am a part of something bigger than myself, and yet I am still me. I feel infinitely loved, and can give my love freely in return. Yet-”
Abbess Joy stopped and sighed. “-yet since Harmony died, I’ve lost a small part of that feeling. Perhaps that is why I fell.”
We continued to the abbey in silence. The sun was high in the sky when we reached the narrow, gravel path, but the Cathedral bells were ringing. When we arrived in the abbey courtyard, Celeste ran to meet us, followed closely by Mercy.
“Come quickly,” Celeste said, taking my hand and tugging me along. “Sister Love said we shall sing a re- a requirement, but we won’t start until you both come to the cathedral.”
“Do you mean to say ‘requiem?’” Abbess Joy asked with a small grin.
“Yes, something like that,” Celeste said. “Hurry!”
I followed Celeste into the cathedral, passing some pilgrims on the way. Some ignored my presence, and some stopped to stare, but I did not attempt to hide my face.
Sister Love smiled and gestured to Abbess Joy to take her place directing the choir, but Abbess Joy shook her head, and joined the ranks of the chorus. I followed suit, and Sister Meek shared her litany with me as we swelled our voices in song.
The melancholy notes hung in the air above me, mingling with the sunlight that poured in through the clear windows. As I watched and listened, surrounded by friends and loved ones who sang alongside me, the storm that had been brewing inside me seemed to subside.The flame in my heart did not extinguish- it was bright as the sun, and the vow I’d made to free my people burned like a brand.
My mother was gone forever, but those who loved her remained. I was alone, yet not alone. I was free, yet bound by purpose.
I knew in that moment that no one, be they a God or a demon, an angel or witch, would ever deter me from my chosen path.
Sister Jubilee was notably absent from the requiem, and no one whom I asked afterward had seen her all day. Still, I trusted that Sister Jubilee would be true to her word, so when the sun set I went to the tower to await her return.
The tower was empty when I arrived, but I was content to wait alone. A book on one of the forbidden laboratory shelves caught my attention, and I was completely absorbed in its contents when Sister Jubilee finally arrived.
“There’s no greater enjoyment than reading a book you’ve been told not to read,” she remarked from the doorway.
I closed the book halfway, marking my place with my finger. “Why didn’t you tell me Sir Boromir’s lost treatise was here?”
Sister Jubilee sighed and walked around the table. I could tell she was fatigued from the slump of shoulders and her slow, deliberate steps. She pulled a wooden stool toward her and sat down hard.
“I’ve been at pains all day to avoid you,” she said. “I needed to make my decision free from the disruption your presence usually causes to my rational mind.”
“I don’t mean to be disruptive,” I said. I slipped my finger from the book and set it aside. “If you wish to postpone our meeting, I understand.”
“No,” Sister Jubilee said quickly. “I will tell you my decision now, while I still have the resolve.”
She stood, straightening her shoulders and turning her veiled face toward me.
“Let me first explain why I decided the way I did, so you won’t misunderstand my intentions. You made a strong impression on me when we first met, and though I’ve learned more about your character since that day, nothing has counteracted that impression.”
“In other words; if you were to vote on my initiation today, you would still oppose it.”
Sister Jubilee nodded. “You are brilliant, Lady Frey- at least as brilliant as Mr. Filius is mad. You have an intuitive sense for the method that most of us take years to learn. Mr. Filius told us, before he brought you to defend your project, how you proceeded after you made your first observation of Lystra’s phases. He said you asked others to confirm your observations, and that you asked Mr. Filius to test your telescope’s integrity without first telling him why. In your presentation, you made it clear that you built your theory, and then tested your theory against Sir Boromir’s observations to see if everything fit your model . You made some mistakes along the way, but you arrived at the correct conclusion. If I’d judged you on your work alone, you would be a member of the guild today.”
Sister Jubilee held up her hand. “Please allow me to continue. Sir Silas objected to your initiation because he felt you lacked courage, but my reason was quite the opposite. You are naturally timid, but I believe the caution this afforded you was the reason you were so methodical in your approach to science. Unfortunately, your timidity also denied you the chance to learn what the bold learn early in life- the necessity of resisting strong impulses.
“Because impulsiveness is so foreign to you, you cannot control it when it appears.You rushed to join the oculist guild before you knew what we were. You accepted and looked through your telescope without questioning why the church forbade it. You were right to look, but if you had questioned the church’s motives, you might have known not to give your treatise to a cleric to review.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that you’ve learned to govern your impulses, yet. Therefore, I cannot trust you to act in accordance with the guild’s highest ideals or to protect the knowledge we’ve fought for.”
I wanted to defend myself, but I could not. Sister Jubilee’s words stabbed me to the heart as they forced me to recall the hatred I’d felt toward my father and the Prince, my impulse to vengeance, and my immediate remorse. The truth of Sister Jubilee’s words was clear.
“You have judged me very harshly,” I said. “Thank you. I see my mistakes in a much clearer light.”
Sister Jubilee sat down very close to me, and the fabric of her veil fluttered against my knees as she leaned forward.
“I will not tell you my secret,” she said, “but I will give you a warning. Lift my veil.”
I reached out, and then hesitated.
“Are you sure?”
“I am. You need to see this, so that you won’t repeat my mistakes. Hurry, before I lose my courage.”
I took the thin fabric in my hands and lifted it, revealing the face beneath.
My breath hitched as my mind attempted to reject what I saw. Then everything I’d hidden in the dark corner of my mind flooded to the surface.
” When this likeness was taken she was just a girl, and she was still happy.”
“…there is some connection between you and Celeste.”
“I can be brave because I’ve just learned that miracles are for real.”
I wanted to cry out that it was impossible. Instead, a single name came to my lips.