Chapter 14: Brother Ignatius
Chapter 14 of the City Of Gargoyles: second book of the Light-Father trilogy.
The four youngest Scatterling settle into their hide-out under the great Abbey only to find a new and unusual friend …
“Thank you, Surl,” Peter said, admiring the neatly wrapped bandage on his stump. “The antiseptic is working already: it’s a little less painful. The Light-Father is right: if I get a major infection in this I could lose my whole arm or even my life.”
“It was raw and there was some bleeding but I’ve disinfected the bandages as well. Mother Moss taught us well the healing arts,” Surl reminded him, closing the medical kit. She scratched at her body. “We need insecticide lotion: we still have some lice from the Keep and I don’t want any more flea bites. Six years in the rain in Crawcester and we were nothing but insect fodder!”
“We got rid of the fleas,” Rabbit agreed around a mouthful of bread and cheese. “But, yes, the lice are definitely back.”
“Pup is scared of the rats in the walls.”
“I know, dear heart,” Surl sighed, ruffling the young boy’s hair. “There’s not a lot we can do about them or the lice at the moment.”
“The food will attract the rats unless we can find some containers to keep it safe. I’m sure there were large jars in the store-room upstairs,” Peter suggested, reaching across the table for his claw. Surl placed her hand upon it and shook her head. “What are you doing that for?” he grumbled. “I need it to carry the jars!”
“Your stump must be allowed to heal and that claw mount is too small,” she insisted. “Leave the jars to me. We have a lot do to do tomorrow. It must be close to nine bells of the evening up there and we need to sleep.”
“Listen, the explosions have stopped,” he said, cocking an ear. “We must’ve done a lot of damage today but I wish the Light-Father had taken us with him.”
“As do I,” Surl nodded. “But we’ll make him proud of us.”
“Can you see him in your visions?”
“No, I’m too tired now, I think: the visions have gone away – maybe forever, I just don’t know.”
“Hmm, I still think you’re meant to be a Mother,” Peter said stoutly and then he smiled: “Maybe we can find you a staff and you can throw lightning bolts at the Tally-men!”
“Ha. I don’t feel any power in me apart from the visions,” Surl shrugged, smearing butter on a slice of bread and adding cheese to it. “Unless you call a rumbling tummy a power,” she laughed as the visceral noise subsided. Peter’s stomach followed suit and they both started to giggle with Pup breaking wind until the sound of traumatised children enjoying a brief moment of joy echoed and re-echoed down the dark sewage tunnels sending rats skittering into crevices and masking the sound of approaching footsteps.
“Ah, this is so good,” Peter grinned contentedly, wiping butter from his chin. “Almost as good as the food the Mothers made for us in Crawcester. What was it that Mother Moss used to say? An empty belly is the best judge of food?”
“Yes, something like that,” Surl smiled.
Pup burped loudly then yawned hugely. He clambered onto one of the makeshift beds set against the wall and drew the linen sheets about him. “I miss Bas already,” he whines. “She always used to sing Pup a lullaby. Can you sing Pup one?”
“Perhaps you can sing one to yourself,” Peter suggested kindly.
Pup’s brow wrinkled with the effort and his voice wavered with emotion as he sang: “A cat once walked, on the skyline of the roofs, as silent as a thief, silhouetted by the Moon, a shadow-thief; a clever thief, who stole a silver spoon…”
They froze as a deep, rich baritone sounded beyond the rotting door leading to the sewers: “…from the Mistress of the House, and a stranger to the truth, he stole all six gold teeth, from her husband’s mouth, then the rattle from the baby, who then stole the cat’s lament, and set up a mewling cry, that stole the hearts of passers-by, who chased the clever cat, and tied about its neck a bell, ending eight of his nine lives…”
There was a rap upon the door as they extinguished the candles and readied their weapons. They could see torchlight through the gaps in the rotting wood. “I mean you no harm, little ones, I am Brother Ignatius of the Tower. Will you allow me safe passage? I know that you’re armed. However, there is something in that cellar that I need then I will leave you in peace. Don’t pretend you’re not in there: I can hear you breathing and whispering.”
“How can we trust you?” Surl said shakily; there’d been no death’s head moth or premonition to alert her to the approach of this danger so perhaps he wasn’t a threat – she just didn’t know!
“I could have crept away and alerted the Great-Abbot as to your location but I haven’t done so. Your friends could’ve killed me today but they spared my life when they didn’t need to do so therefore I wish to repay that debt. May I enter?”
“Yes,” Surl said warily. “But be mindful or you die.”
The door creaked open and they were all but blinded by the torchlight. “Ah, excuse me, little ones,” he apologised. He switched on a small battery-lantern from his rucksack, set it upon the table and turned the torch off. “That’s better,” he smiled engagingly, helping himself to bread and cheese as they all pointed their weapons at him. He sat down and began to eat. “I see you’ve acquainted yourselves with the kitchens. I take it you brave little souls got left behind when the Light-Father retreated?”
“That’s obvious,” Peter said fiercely. “Why are you here? Why are you not calling for help? We could easily kill you.”
“I dare say you could, my son,” Ignatius said blandly. “Mmm, fresh bread and cheese: wonderful. I need a little wine to fully appreciate it, methinks.” He stood up slowly and went to one of the wine racks and selected a bottle. He opened it at the table then extracted a goblet from the rucksack and filled it. The children watched wide-eyed and silent as he drained it in one single gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Ah, that’s the prescription filled,” he beamed. “Now I suspect you want to know why I’m not betraying you to the Order, yes?”
“Yes,” Surl scowled, studying the portly grey-haired cleric with a mixture of suspicion and loathing. “We would.”
“Because I don’t care a jot if the Order gets wiped off the face of the Earth,” Ignatius said frankly, refilling the goblet. “I’ve lived in my little tower by the station for six years with my books and my wine, writing poems about death in all its forms. I had nothing to do with the Virus or the Tally-men and I want nothing more to do with this,” he added, pointing to the small Hebrew tattoo on his forehead denoting his Tribe. “I argued with Father Schimrian. I said that the Conclave was foolhardy and then he showed me the monstrosity; the seven-headed lamb – then he banished me to my little station tower. As prisons go, it’s bearable – when they remember to send me food. Postulants and novices pay me visits and I read to them all the classics. Such is my life.”
“So you’ve lived in luxury while we’ve lived with rats and dogs and being hunted by the Order for six years!” Surl spat. “We are but children yet we’ve had to kill to survive. You could’ve warned everybody this Conclave of yours was planning!”
“I did, child,” Ignatius said, cupping the goblet and bowing his head. “But the Conclave controls the entire Order so nobody listened to a drunken exiled Brother. Only the Exodus workers at the Great Abbey heeded my words and left me with the impression that they already knew what the Conclave were planning. They told me to look to my books while they looked to their children. I presume they meant you: the Children of Exodus whom they’ve blessed with above average strength, intelligence and vitality.” He raised his goblet in a toast. “Please, put down those weapons as I mean you no harm. In fact, if you will let me, I propose to help you.”
Pup went up to the cleric and studied his face closely. “I believe you, you smell nice,” he said, breaking into a smile and hugging him. Tears formed in the old cleric’s eyes as he returned the hug.
“Bless you, youngling,” he croaked, his voice crackling with deep emotion. “I never thought I’d hear the sweet innocent sound of a child’s voice again!”
“Your accursed Order saw to that,” Peter said angrily. “We lost our families. Some of us watched them die.”
“As did I, as did I,” Ignatius groaned. “I had brothers and sisters and they all had children that I was fond of. How I used to love spoiling them at Christmastide and Easter! When the Plague struck, I broke bounds to rush to Danelief to see what I could do but most of my relatives died in my arms cursing me to Hell. Then I saw my brethren start their Inquisitions and watched the torture begin in the Great Manse and in other Redemption Cells across the world. I saw my first Tally-man and fled to my tower to drown my impotence and cowardice in copious amounts of alcohol.”
He looked at the faces of the children, noting the terror and suffering they’d endured; children who’d had to fight and kill to survive in the world his Order created. He sighed and stared down into his wine, pursing his lips. “Now I hear the dead lament in the dark watches of the night outside the windows of my tower. I hear them cry when the wind howls and the rain falls. They call to me over and over and my only escape lies in this cellar.”
“Was it you who boarded up the door?” Peter asked, finally placing his knife back in its sheath.
“Yes. I took to exploring the sewers and catacombs under the Great Abbey in my exile. I laid a table against the doorway in the hallway upstairs then boarded up the door. The Sisters soon forgot that they ever had a store-room and a well-stocked wine cellar here as there are so many other cellars. They’re not bred for intelligence, bless them. I now know they were designed to be naught but broodmares for the Conclave’s twisted New Jerusalem.”
“So if you aren’t going to take us to Schimrian,” Rabbit said nervously. “Why are you helping us?”
“Because I owe my life to your friends and see in you the nieces and nephews I watched die. I would thus honour their souls and their memories,” Ignatius pledged, placing a hand upon his heart. “It’s no less than that and no more than that. I have no loyalty to Schimrian or his Conclave. I prayed for his death and for that of Pious but the world remains blighted by their presence.”
He helped himself to more bread and cheese. “Forgive me: I am unlikely to be fed for a while,” he explained. “Now, if you come with me, I can guide you to my little tower then you can escape under cover of darkness along the railways tracks.”
“No,” Surl said, folding her arms. “We need to remain here. We intend to sabotage the Order before we leave.”
“Good Lord, such resolve in one so young!” Ignatius exclaimed, setting Pup onto his feet. “You really are the Children of Exodus! To have such few years and hold such great ambition; yet you are still younglings and many Brothers and Tally-men remain alive up there. There’s still a vile darkness in this Great Abbey beyond your meagre skills, little ones, thus I beg you: you must flee!”
“We will not,” Surl said resolutely. “We are the Scatterlings of Crawcester and we follow the Light-Father.”
“Yet he abandoned you here.”
“He had no choice,” Surl retorted angrily. “He was sore wounded by that thing that Schimrian created as was Mother Fern. They only had enough strength to save the others.”
“Ah, forgive me for doubting him: his assault upon the Great Abbey was a masterpiece of strategy and no doubt my young friend, Kai, served him well. And you: youngling, you seem so sure of yourself for one so young when so many perished today.”
“Not enough,” Surl replied coldly.
“Many of your Ferals died,” Ignatius pointed out. “And two of your Mothers were killed after they destroyed the fuel dumps and many of our weapons and begiullers. The Light-Father won a Pyrrhic victory: it was madness to assault a place this large with so few followers but he did well, I’ll grant him that.”
“The madness was yours,” Surl replied curtly. “What happened today was set in motion by Mother Moss many years ago. She was a powerful seer who foresaw that the Order would birth the demon Azrael and that our friend, Fierce, would destroy it by sacrificing her life. She had but thirteen years yet she saved us all – including you. What do you know of this monster’s creation in the Great Cathedral? Is it truly dead?”
“I know little of this creature except that the device at its heart was not of this world. While they were untying me – and cursing me for being so easily overpowered – they told me this so-called angel you speak of emerged from that machine in the Great Annex. They also told me of a child who sacrificed herself to kill this creature after all the Tally-men had gone berserk: killing Brothers and Sisters the whole world over. The creature is dead: they’re cremating the last fragments of its flesh as we speak.”
“The Sisters in the kitchens are dead too,” Peter shuddered. “The Tally-men must’ve killed them: they were stabbed by spears hundreds of times; they were mutilated.”
“It was horrible,” Rabbit whimpered. “Horrible!”
They saw the remorse clearly in his face as Ignatius lamented their loss. “Ahh, no,” he breathed. “They were truly innocent: the purest and sweetest women in all of Creation. Ah, I hope Schimrian is truly dead for making such things come to pass.”
“What of Schimrian?” Peter insisted. “Is he still alive?”
“They told me that he and Abbot Michael were assaulted by this creature and thrust into that machine – they believe them to be dead but in my heart I know otherwise, oh, I know otherwise: evil of that magnitude is impossible to kill.”
He drained the goblet and levered himself upright to begin loading his rucksack with the goblet and numerous dusty bottles of wine. “I see I can’t persuade you to come with me,” he said. “Then I am sworn to do what I can to aid you.”
“So can we trust you, then?” Peter demanded.
Ignatius paused to indicate Pup: “This child has clearer insight into my soul than you. I have no loyalty to the Order yet no desire to go forth into an empty world. I have my fires, my books and the arms of Bacchus to comfort me.”
He hoisted the clinking rucksack onto his back with some difficulty and stepped out onto the sewer ledge. Surl picked up the lantern to return it to him but he held up his hand. “No, keep it, youngling. I have countless others. It will be of use to you when you move about the tunnels. Candles are not a good idea in sewers as draughts blow them out and gases can ignite down here. It’ll last three days then I can give you another.”
“Thank you,” Surl said, painfully aware that her visions had completely abated – she had nothing but her gut instinct with which to gauge this amiable alcoholic. “How do we reach you?”
“Ah, thank you for honouring me with your trust,” Ignatius said, bowing slightly. “It means a lot to an old man like me. Follow the main sewer but keep to the left until you reach a large tunnel raised four feet above the main sewer on the right. The main sewer carries on under the Angel Compound while this storm overflow tunnel passes near my tower and opens out into the River Elver to the south: you can also escape that way as there are no grilles. Keep going down the storm drain until you reach the first inspection shaft: it emerges in a small courtyard at the rear of the tower. Knock six times on the door and I will come unless I’m in my cups or in my bed; sleeping the sleep of the ungodly.”
“Goodbye, Brother Ignatius,” Surl said returning the bow.
“How are you so sure you’ll be safe here?” he asked shrewdly. “Are you relying on the powers and predictions of this Mother Moss or are you a Daughter? Tell me, not that it will change things, but do you bear the mark of the craft?”
Surl was about to proudly declare that she was a seer but a death’s head moth fluttered in front of her face only to vanish in a puff of dust. Startled for a moment, she blustered out a lie: “N-no I have no mark – it’s just that the Light-Father trained us well.”
“Pity. I had hoped to meet a Wiccan in the flesh to compare her to the propaganda of the Order I’ve had to endure all my waking days since they took me in as a child. Now, before I go I would like to know the rest of your names.”
“I’m Surl, this is Rabbit, that is Peter and Pup you know.”
“Pup likes you!” Pup added brightly.
“And I like thee, Pup,” Ignatius laughed, the years seeming to fall from his lined face in the dim light of the lantern. “Fare thee well, children. I’ll bring you food and water when I can. Six knocks, remember, six knocks!”
He pushed the door to and they listened in thoughtful silence to the sound of his retreating footsteps and the fading clink of wine bottles until there was nothing but the susurration of the waters gushing down the sewers on their way to the derelict sewage processing plants on the shores of the Kentish Meres.
(c) 2019 Paul D E Mitchell PRS and other copyrights protected.
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