Chapter 14: Brother Ignatius
Chapter 14 of the City Of Gargoyles: second book of the Light-Father trilogy.
Chapter 14: Brother Ignatius
“Thank you, Surl,” Peter said, admiring the clean bandage on his stump. “The pain is receding already. I did a lot of damage in that damned chimney. The Light-Father is right: if I get an infection, I could lose my whole arm or even my life.”
“It was raw and there was some bleeding but the disinfectant will work on it. Mother Moss taught us well the healing arts,” Surl said, closing the medical kit and scratching at her head. “We do need other medicines: we did not rid ourselves of all the lice at the Keep and I don’t want any more flea bites either! Six years in the rain in Crawcester and we were nothing but fodder for insects!”
“We got rid of the fleas,” Rabbit said around a mouthful of bread and cheese. “But, yes, I think the lice are back.”
“And Pup can hear more 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 that at the moment.”
“The food will attract them unless we can find some containers to keep it safe. I am sure there were large jars in the store-room upstairs,” Peter said, reaching across the table for his claw. Surl placed her hand upon it and shook her head. “What are you doing that for? I need the claw to carry the jars!”
“Your stump must be allowed to heal and that claw is now far too small for your stump,” she insisted. “Leave the jars for now. 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 have done a lot of damage today but I wish the Light-Father could have taken us with him.”
“As do I,” Surl nodded. “But we will make him proud.”
“Can you see him in your visions?”
“No, I’m too tired, I think: the visions have gone away for now – or maybe forever, I don’t know.”
“Hmm, I still think you’re meant to be a Mother, Surl,” Peter said stoutly and then 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 laughed and giggled 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 masked the sound of approaching footsteps.
“Ah, this is so good,” Peter beamed, wiping his mouth. “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 bed sheets about him. “I miss Bas already,” he grumbled. “She always used to sing me a lullaby. Can you sing Pup one?”
“Perhaps you can sing it 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 all 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 are armed. However, there is something in that cellar that I need to get then I will leave you in peace. Do not pretend you are not there: I can hear your breathing and whispers.”
“How can we trust you?” Surl said shakily; there had been no death’s head moth or premonition to alert her to the approach of this danger so perhaps he was not a threat.
“I could have crept away and alerted the Great Abbot as to your location but I have not done so. Your friends could have killed me today but they spared my life when they did not 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, switching the torch off. He extracted a small battery-lantern from his rucksack and set it upon the table. “That’s better,” he smiled, helping himself to some bread and cheese as they all pointed their weapons at him. He sat down and began to eat. “I see you have acquainted yourselves with the kitchens I see. Well done. I take it you brave 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 his rucksack and filled it. The children watched, wide-eyed, in silence 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 am not betraying you to the Order right now, hmm?”
“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 have lived in my little tower by the station for six years with my books and my wine and written poems about death in all its forms. I had nothing to do with the Virus and the Tally-men and I want nothing to do with them now or with this,” he added, pointing to the small Hebrew tattoo on his forehead. “I argued with Father Schimrian. I said that the Conclave was mistaken and then he showed me a monstrosity; a seven-headed lamb, then he banished me to my little tower. As prisons go, it’s bearable – when they remember to send me food – but postulants and novices did pay me visits and I read to them all the classics. Such was my life.”
“You lived in luxury while we lived through the rats and the dogs and being hunted by the Order for six years!” Surl spat. “We are but children yet we have had to kill to survive. You could have warned people what Schimrian was planning.”
“I did child,” Ignatius said, cupping the goblet and bowing his head. “But nobody would listen to a drunken Brother. Only the Exodus workers at the Great Abbey heeded my words and left me with the impression they already knew what was happening. They told me to look to my books while they looked to their children. I presume they meant you: the Children of Exodus with immunity to the Virus and blessed with above average strength and vitality,” he added, raising his goblet in a toast. “Now, please put down those weapons as I truly mean you no harm. In fact, if you will let me, I propose to help you flee this accursed place.”
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 wracked with deep emotion. “I never thought I would hear the sweet sound of a child’s voice again in my lifetime.”
“Your accursed Order saw to that,” Peter said angrily. “We lost all our families. Some of us watched them die.”
“As did I, as did I,” Ignatius wept. “Although I was of the Order by contract, I had brothers and sisters and they all had children that I was fond of and used to spoil at Christmastide and Easter and I broke bounds to rush to Danelief to see what I could do but most of them died in my arms cursing me. Then I saw my brethren start their Inquisitions and returned to drown my impotence and self-loathing in literature and alcohol.”
He looked at the faces of the children and could see the horrors and suffering that they had endured; children who had to fight and kill to survive in the world the Order created. He sighed and stared down into his wine, pursing his lips. “Now I hear their voices in the dark watches of the night outside the windows of my tower. I hear them lament when the wind howls and the rain falls. They call to me over and over and my only escape is 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 corridor then I boarded up 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 are not bred for intelligence, bless them. I now know they were designed to be naught but brood mares for the Conclave’s twisted New Jerusalem.”
“So you are not going to take us to Schimrian?” Rabbit said nervously. “Why will you help us?”
“Because I owe my life to your friends and see in you my lost nieces and nephews: I would thus honour their souls and their memories,” Ignatius pledged, placing a hand upon his chest. “It is no less than that and no more than that. I have no loyalty to that maniac, Schimrian. I had prayed for his death and for that of Abbot Pious but I believe my prayers will be unanswered and this world will remain cursed by their presence.”
He helped himself to more bread and cheese. “Forgive me: I am unlikely to be fed awhile,” 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 will remain here. We intend to sabotage the Order before we leave.”
“Good Lord, such resolve in one so young!” Ignatius exclaimed, releasing Pup. “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 is 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 fiercely. “He was sore wounded by that thing that Schimrian created as was Mother Fern. They only had the 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 will grant him that.”
“The madness was yours,” Surl said darkly. “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 did 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 indeed dead: they are incinerating the remaining fragments of its flesh as we speak.”
“All the Sisters in the kitchens are dead too,” Peter shuddered. “The Tally-men must have 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 of all God’s creations. 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 cannot persuade you to come with me,” he sighed. “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. Ah, I bless my predecessors for laying down so many bottles of wine for 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 will last several days then I can give you another.”
“Thank you,” Surl said, painfully aware that her visions had completely abated and she had nothing but her gut instincts with which to gauge this man. “I think we can trust you but how do we reach you?”
“Ah, thank you for honouring me thus,” Ignatius said with a slight bow. “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 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 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 small door and I will come – unless I am in my cups and in my bed; sleeping the sleep of the ungodly.”
“Goodbye, Brother Ignatius,” Surl said returning the bow.
“How are you so sure you will 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 he Light-Father trained us all well and even though we have but few years we know what we must do.”
“Pity. I had hoped to meet a Wiccan in the flesh to compare her to the propaganda of the Order I have had to endure all my waking days since they took me with but twelve years to my tally. But before I go, I would know the rest of your names.”
“I am Surl, this is Rabbit and that is Peter and Pup you know.”
“Pup likes you!” Pup said 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. I will bring you food and water when I can. Six knocks, remember, six!”
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 sound of the waters gushing down the sewers on their way to the long dead 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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