Lev prodded a mud-covered pig with his walking stick and with a squeal it scurried away from the gutter in which it had been so interested. Now that the swine was out of the way, Prior Yaroslav was able to kneel down next to a man propped up against a timber-framed house. The alley in which he lay reeked of excrement.
“Thank, you, Lev,” Yaroslav said as he placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. The man’s skin was clammy and his face contorted with pain as he clutched his stomach.
“C-could you please give me something to drink?” the man whispered, his voice ragged.
“Yes,” Yaroslav nodded and put a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder. When he looked up at Lev, his face was sombre rather than smiling as it usually was. “Lev, could you pass me some of the sage and verbana drink?”
“Of course, reverend sir,” Lev said, moving towards Yaroslav with the waterskin in hand. Yaroslav was the leader of the group of Cyruzhians who were visiting Dargon, and second only to the abbot of Lev’s home monastery in authority. Lev knew that if anyone did, Yaroslav knew what the best treatment would be for this man.
A barking dog suddenly darted out from around a corner and ran right where Lev was about to step. Most of his left side paralysed from when he had received a blow to the head several years ago, so he nearly fell over trying to avoid the creature. He was able to steady himself with his walking stick and hand the waterskin to the prior, however.
“Thank you, novice,” Yaroslav said. “I am afraid it looks as if this man is afflicted by the same bloody flux that many others in this part of Dargon are suffering from.”
As Yaroslav poured some of the herbal remedy into a cup, the diseased man spoke again, his voice shakey. “Y-you are monks?”
“Yes, Cyruzhians from Fennell Keep,” Lev said.
The man managed a weak smile, “It figures that in the end I’d — J’mirg’s blood!” He staggered to his feet and ran down the alley to a more private part of the gutter and squated. Once he was done, he fell to the ground exhausted.
“He is in a bad way,” Prior Yaroslav said. “We had better take him to the monastery. The healers may be able to help him, but I fear we will only be able to make his passing a little more comfortable.”
Lev nodded. For much of the morning he and his fellow Cyruzhian brothers who were visiting Dargon had been tending to such unfortunates. Few of them had been helped much by the monks’ ministrations.
“Get Brother Gregory and a few others to help us carry him to the monastery.” Yaroslav said.
“Yes, reverend sir,” Lev said. He shuffled out of the alleyway and back onto Coldwell Street. A man with tattoos on his face and a rough leather jerkin bumped into Lev and almost knocked him over. The street was packed with all manner of people: a much different version of Dargon than Lev had seen last night when he had first arrived in the city.
Directly across from him, two men in side-by-side stalls were trying to out shout each other with cries of “hot pies” and “good ale”. Not far to Lev’s right a peddler was loudly arguing over the price of a magical potion to produce lust with a sailor. In the distance, the large bell on the Harbormaster’s Building clanged loudly to announce the passing of another bell.
Lev had to sweep aside a few rats with his good foot as he slowly made his way along the muddy street. He could see the white tunics and black robes of some of his brother Cyruzhians not far away, but in this crowd he had no hope of them hearing a shouted summons. The noise in Dargon was one of the differences he noticed most between this place and his home of Fennell Keep. When he had first seen Fennell Keep, Lev could scarce believe that there existed more people in one place than there. Now that he had seen Dargon, he could only shake his head in disbelief that Magnus, the capital of Baranur, held more than twenty times as many people.
Eventually Lev made it to the small group of monks who were standing in the shade of the overhanging story of a house. They were putting linseed poultices back into their pouches, after presumably treating sores on the inhabitant of the house.
“Brother Gregory,” Lev said once he reached the group. “Prior Yaroslav wants us to help carry another one back to the monastery.”
“You mean, we’ll carry him,” Gregory scowled. “Not likely you’ll do much work.”
Lev felt his face heat and his muscles tense as they had the previous day when another of the brothers had insulted him. “Do you think I chose to lose the use of my left side?”
“I’m sorry,” Brother Gregory said. “It’s been a long day and I am tired.”
Lev nodded. He should not have gotten so angry, but lately such emotions had come to him very swiftly. Lev felt a little weak now that the moment had passed. He followed his brothers into the alley where Prior Yaroslav was waiting. The young, healthy monks picked the man up and carried him while Lev and Prior Yaroslav followed not far behind. After leaving the man in the care of the healers in Dargon Abbey, they returned to north-eastern part of the city near the docks.
They took to Coldwell Street, and as the sixth bell of day tolled, Lev found himself in a part of vicinity of the Shattered Spear. Here, he and his brothers under the Prior Yaroslav had spent the previous night. Lev shivered involuntarily as he recalled that rain-filled evening when he had awakened to the weeping of a young girl who worked at the inn. Samara, he remembered her name was. He felt his heart throb in pity for the girl who worked as a prostitute and had become pregnant as a result. Lev wondered if he would be able to recognise her should he see her again, as it had been very dark last night and he had caught but a glimpse of her face.
Prior Yaroslav bade the group stop. “You’ve worked hard and well today, brothers. Let us take a few menes of rest.”
They sat down on an number of empty wine casks by the side of the inn and let the breeze cool them in the shade of the building’s overhanging upper stories. Prior Yaroslav sat on the same cask as Lev, while the other brothers sat a few feet away, chatting amongst themselves.
“So, Lev,” Prior Yaroslav said. “I noticed that you left our company last night.”
“Reverend sir, I am truly sorry.”
“No apologies, Lev,” the prior said. “I seek merely to help.”
“I thank you, reverend sir,” Lev said. “For indeed, I think I am out of my depth.” He then related the story of his encounter with the girl the night before, beginning with when he had first heard her weeping outside the window under which had he slept, even including their embrace and his shocking feelings towards her.
The prior nodded several times before speaking. “You have done well, my son, and I think that only you can help this girl. But tread carefully. I too, once felt the desires of coming manhood. You must be ever vigilant of your vows.”
“Yes, of course, reverend sir,” Lev lowered his head in embarrassment. “I often wish that my body were not so …”
“It is nothing to be ashamed of, Lev,” Yaroslav consoled, resting a hand on Lev’s shoulder. “It is natural, but also distracting, which is why it is both a great and necessary sacrifice for devotion as a Cyruzhian brother.”
The door to the inn opened, and one of the serving girls emerged. As with the others who worked there, she wore neither veil nor wimple, and her golden locks shone brightly in the sun. The seductive sway of her hips was not lost on Lev as she carried a bucket of dirty water towards the gutter. As she turned to pour it out, Lev was able to see her face in profile, and he caught his breath.
“Is that the girl you met last night?” Prior Yaroslav whispered. Lev nodded. “Go talk to her. I will keep an eye out from nearby.”
With that he got up and left, and Lev was left alone with Samara. At least to him it seemed that way, despite the fact that the street was filled with people. A little unsteadily, he got off his perch on the wine cask, and clutching his wooden staff, moved towards the girl. As he neared her, she looked up with her large blue eyes and made as if to avoid him. When he called out her name, she stopped and turned toward him.
“Do I know you, brother?” she asked. Her face showed signs that she had been crying the night before, as they were pink and puffy, yet Lev could think of nothing save how beautiful she was. Given more than a fleeting moment to see her face, he took careful note of the heart-shaped face framed by long blonde hair, small lips like roses, and those large, watery eyes of sky blue.
“Well, yes,” he said. “Uh … last night –”
“Lev?” her eyes grew wide in surprise. “You’re one of the monks from the abbey?”
“Well, no,” Lev shuffled his feet in discomfort. “I’m not a monk yet. I’m still a novice, and I’m from Fennell Keep …”
“I see,” Samara said, and began walking towards the Shattered Spear once again. Lev noted a strange edge to her voice, but he could not decide what it was. Perhaps she was angry at him, but he could think of no reason why. He hastened after her, seeing that she had darted into the alley where they had met the night before.
“Samara?” he cautiously rounded the corner, to find her bent over with sickness. Not knowing what to do, he patted her on the back.
“Please hold my hair,” she managed between heaves. Lev complied, and after a few moments the bout of sickness seemed to have passed, though she was a little more pale than before. Lev offered her some wine which he carried in a skin that hung from his belt. “Thank you,” Samara mumbled. “I have to get back to work.”
“Yes, of course,” Lev said, taking the wineskin back from her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …”
“No,” Samara said, “I appreciate that you’re trying to help me, but –”
The words caught in her throat as the two of them exited the alley and emerged onto the street. Lev did not know what might be amiss. All he noticed was a rather large priest ambling up to them. To call him large was an understatement, and seeing his fleshy jowls and immense girth, Lev’s initial pleasure at seeing a fellow man of the cloth cooled quickly. Adhering to an austere lifestyle as the Cyruzhians did, they bore a quiet resentment towards such worldly clerics. What proper man or woman of God feasted while others around them starved, especially in so wretched an area as this?
The fat priest seemed cheerful enough as he approached, however. “Good morrow to you, brother.”
Lev nodded in acknowledgement of the greeting. “And to you, father.”
“You must be among those from Fennell Keep, for I do not recognise you,” the fat man said.
“That is correct,” Prior Yaroslav said as he approached the priest. “I am Prior Yaroslav. This is one of the novices from my order, and you?”
“I serve a parish not far from here,” the priest tactfully evaded the prior’s question. “And I often come to the Shattered Spear in my free bells to … to spread the Stevene’s Light.”
“Indeed,” Yaroslav said. “Then I wish you well. I must myself be off to join my brothers and so must this young novice.”
Lev saw Samara flinch when Yaroslav said that. A suspicion was starting to form in the back of Lev’s mind that all was not as it seemed. The thought was elusive, though, and Lev could not tell what exactly was wrong. He was disquieted nonetheless. He also noticed that the obese cleric was eyeing Samara with an odd glint in his eye.
Over the next several days, Lev and Samara met often, and the young monk did his best to counsel the unfortunate girl. She spoke often of wanting to end the pregnancy, but Lev argued vehemently against it, for he was sure no good could come of it. What troubled Lev more than Samara’s desire to kill her child were the feelings that he had developed for her. His physical attraction to her had been intense from his first meetings with her, but as they spoke every day, he could sense something deeper forming. It was more than friendship, for he had known many such relationships in his time. This was much different; every time he saw her, his heart would flutter, and a smile would force his lips apart. He was excited by her every touch and her every word. He felt shame that as a monk he would allow himself to feel this way, and pushed the feelings deep, refusing t o admit what they really were.
This particular day, they sat in the gardens of the Dargon abbey, resting in the warming rays of a midday sun. In order that he might spare Samara the ravages of lustful customers, Lev had obtained permission from Prior Yaroslav and the abbot to hire the girl for a few bells using the monastery’s funds.
Even so, Lev could not help but feel that she was not entirely free of any ‘lustful customers’. Whenever he was around her, he felt light-headed and flushed. Even now, as he sat next to her on a bench in a monastery garden, she entranced him. He stared at her neck; the skin there was so smooth. It was a beautiful shade of pink. Lev desperately wanted to kiss her there, take her into his arms and –
“Lev?” Samara said.
“Huh?” Lev was startled by the voice, and had to take a few moments to realise where he was. “I mean … yes?”
“What were you thinking about? You looked very far away, just then.”
“Oh, I … uh …” Lev said, thinking quickly for a suitable answer. “I cannot understand how brothels exist, in truth I don’t. Liriss is not a lord to whom you owe fealty and you are not a slave, yet men buy you as they might a hot meat pie from a street corner vendor.”
“It is not as simple as you make it sound,” Samara said, her eyes cast towards the ground as they always were whenever conversation moved to her occupation. “It is true that Liriss does not own me, that I could leave his employ should I so choose … I am ashamed of myself that I cannot. I have no husband, no skills of my own, and I have not the courage to risk life as a beggar.”
Lev nodded, and felt acutely guilty for making Samara feel badly. Obviously the first thing that came to mind was not the right thing to say. “Is it thus for all of those at the Shattered Spear?”
“No,” Samara shook her head, “some of the women are truly wantons. You musn’t be lulled into the trap of thinking we are all forced …”
“All the same,” Lev said, “you should not feel shame, for *you* have been forced into this, and I understand why you cannot leave. But listen to the Stevene’s Third Law: The sexual act is a sacrament. It is a holy gift of pleasure from God. He who violates this gift shall burn, but she who is violated is as pure as before, by My Holy Word. Let none gainsay this decree.”
“I remember you said that to me the first time we met,” Samara looked up now, into Lev’s eyes, and a surge of excitement charged Lev’s veins. “You’re the only person I know who makes me feel like a person, someone worth loving.”
Lev shifted uncomfortably on the wooden bench, and could feel colour rising in his face. “Well, uh … as a child of God …”
The edge of Samara’s lips quirked up, and she put her hand on Lev’s. “You are nothing like any of the Stevenics I’ve met before. You actually believe in what you say.”
“What do you mean?” Lev was taken aback by the remark. He often doubted himself that he really believed all that he had been taught. Perhaps, deep down, his faith was stronger than he knew.
“I wasn’t going to tell you, but …” she paused, and averted her eyes once again. “At first because I was scared that you’d be the same, then because … because …”
“Please tell me,” Lev said, his voice sounding to him as if it were spoken by someone else. The atmosphere in the abbey garden suddenly changed. The songbird that had been chirping was silent and the air turned cold. Lev feared what he would next hear.
“The priest you met outside the Shattered Spear a few days ago,” Samara’s speech was broken by sobs, and tears began to roll down her cheeks, “He doesn’t preach there; he … he lays with me! Pays a coin just like the rest!”
Lev drew back from her in horror. He could not believe what he was hearing. Merciful God, it couldn’t be true! But the words poured from her mouth faster and faster, as if a dike had been broken and a river of putrid water were gushing through the hole.
“He lays atop me, his flabby fingers clutching at me, bruising me, his vile-smelling breath …” she grabbed the sleeve of Lev’s tunic. “Oh Lev, please don’t be mad at me!”
When she threw herself onto Lev in a desperate embrace, he could only hug her back, could not even speak. Lev knew that most sects within the Stevenic Church did not share the Cyruzhians’ vow of celibacy, took wives and sired children — but this! Cephas’ boot, but this was the most horrible betrayal of the Stevene’s Light Lev had ever known! How could such a thing happen? How could such a thing ever be allowed to happen? How could God watch from on high and do nothing?
“Worse still,” she whispered into his ear, “I am certain that the child I bear is his, for in the last several months he has paid extra to have me saved for him only.”
“How can this be?” Lev shuddered. How could a servant of God violate holy sacraments thus? And a child born to a prostitute had little hope in life, for who could prove who the father was?
“You don’t believe me?” Samara drew back quickly.
“I do believe you,” Lev said. “It’s just … I — I don’t know. A priest? No, it can’t be!”
“Well, it is!” Samara shouted. “I told you because I thought out of everyone I know, you might understand!”
She sprang to her feet and ran out of the garden. Lev tried to get up after her but with his lame left foot, he fell to the ground. The brother that had been keeping an eye on his and Samara’s conversation from a short distance away hurried over.
“Lev, are you alright?”
“I … don’t know,” Lev said.
Lev sat on that same bench a couple of days later, staring down at the stonework path beneath his feet. He could not keep his hands still; he ran them through his hair, rubbed his face, and played with his tunic. What in God’s name had happened with his life? He had not prayed at all in days, his thoughts always on Samara. He would envision her face, her voice … her body. The thoughts excited him and shamed him at the same time. It wasn’t proper to think about someone like that, or was it? What was really wrong with it?
But then his thoughts would shift to the fat priest, what he had done with her … what he might be doing with her that very mene! The fire in Lev’s veins changed in quality, and he balled his hands into fists.
“Novice Lev?” a soft voice said.
Lev looked up to see Prior Yaroslav standing beside the bench. “Reverend sir, thank God … I don’t know who else to talk to!”
The prior sat down beside Lev and put a comforting hand on the young novice’s shoulder. “Calm yourself, Lev. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Lev chewed at his fingernails nervously, and looked back at the ground. “Well, you remember the girl from the Shattered Spear I told you about … Samara?”
“Yes, I know of her,” Yaroslav said. “I also know you have spent a fair bit of time with her lately. I also know where this is probably going.”
“I feel such strange feelings towards her. They are powerful, too. I …”
Yaroslav nodded knowingly and chuckled. “Believe it or not, I was once your age. I think I have a good idea of how you feel. Would you believe that before I became a Cyruzhian brother I –”
“But that’s not all,” Lev interrupted. “And certainly not the most important.”
Lev took a deep breath before continuing. “One of her ‘customers’ is a priest, one of our own. He lies with her, buys her body, and she now carries his child!”
Lev could feel his face burning now, and his heartbeat had quickened. Just thinking of the priest filled him with anger. He looked up at Yaroslav, whose face was impassive.
“Those are some serious charges, Lev.”
“You don’t believe me?” Lev shouted.
“Shhh …” Yaroslav made placating gestures with his hands. “Be calm. I did not say I did not believe you. In fact, I am rather inclined to believe you. I can guess who the priest might be.”
“Then what will you do?”
“Do?” Yaroslav shifted on the bench. “I cannot do anything. And neither can you.”
“What?” Lev could hear his own voice rising again, but did not care. “How can we do nothing when something like this is happening? There must be some kind of justice!”
“There can be no retribution, if that’s what you mean. How can one wrong undo another? The most I could do is talk to the local prelate of that priest’s sect. I promise you I will do that much. Though I must admit that I doubt much will come of it. Your charges are purely hearsay.”
“You’ll do that much, will you?” Lev could now feel his anger turning towards Prior Yaroslav. How could the man he respected so much be so indifferent to such evil? “That is nothing! And all the while he — he … What of the Third Law?”
“And what of the Fourth, brother?”
“What of our religion that is supposed to uphold and teach the Stevene’s Light?”
Lev got up as quickly as he dared, remembering his fall when he tried to follow Samara from this very spot a few days before. Taking his staff, he hobbled away from the prior.
“Lev!” Yaroslav called. “Where are you going?”
Lev limped as fast as he could through the inner cloister, through the outer, and out into the streets of Dargon. He wanted to scream, to break his staff over someone’s head. His whole body was shaking with rage, but he forced himself to calm down and start breathing again. After several moments, his head was more or less clear once again. He looked around at the busy folk of Dargon bustling about, apparently oblivious to his existence.
Lev looked pleadingly up to the heavens. No evidence of the sun could be seen behind dark rain clouds. No evidence of God could be seen either, as far as Lev could tell. A man who was supposed to be a servant of God, forcing sex on a girl, and the church that supposedly served the same God looked on blithely as if nothing were amiss? Indifferent? Uncaring? Or worse … false? Was it all lie? But if so, to what end?
Lev turned and looked at the stone edifice from which he had just emerged. It held a lot of rock, but he wondered how much love. Thinking of love, his mind returned to Samara. He had come to the decision that women were the most beautiful creatures in this world, and Samara foremost among them. He had to see her; more importantly, he had to apologise to her for his actions last time he had seen her.
Samara sat across from Lev at a table in the Shattered Spear. Her features were passive, her lips held tightly together. Despite the lack of emotion on her face, Lev could see hurt in her eyes.
“Lev, I don’t really have time to speak with you,” she said.
“I know, but please listen for just a few moments,” Lev said. “I just wanted to apologise for the way I acted the other day. I was caught off … no. I have no excuses. I was wrong to doubt you at all. I was stupid, blind to the truth because I thought this high-up church I belong to could never be wrong! I was so wrong …”
Tears welled up in Samara’s eyes. “Oh, Lev, I’m sorry, too. I should have known –”
“No,” Lev shook his head. “You did nothing wrong. It was I … and others. I want to make it right to you. The Cyruzhians, Stevenism, I don’t know what anything means any more. I don’t think I can stay a part of something that’s so hypocritical.”
“Lev, what are you saying?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that you mean a great deal to me, and I want to help you in some way. I work in the scriptorium back in Heart’s Hope; I could get a job as a notary …”
“You’re not thinking of leaving the Cyruzhians, are you?”
“Maybe I am,” Lev rested his chin in his hand and looked out the window absently. “Maybe I am. Not much has made sense to me since I arrived in Dargon, but just now, leaving this all behind me seems to …”
“Lev, you can’t leave the Cyruzhians just for me!” Samara laughed a little and touched Lev’s hand. “It means so much to you. I know it does. You’ve told me so much about your life with them.”
“As you said, working in the scriptorium, even your prayers. You told me about how you –”
“I haven’t prayed in days.”
Samara looked down at her stomach. “Is this because you feel guilty over what happened to me? It’s not your fault, Lev.”
No, it wasn’t because of that, Lev thought. “It’s because I think I’m falling in love with you.”
He didn’t say that out loud, did he? No, apparently not, for Samara’s expression was unchanged when he looked away from the window, back at her. He couldn’t resist studying her face for a few moments: heart-shaped, framed by golden locks of hair, eyes like the sea …
Samara’s hand, which was still over Lev’s, suddenly grasped him tightly. Her eyes widened, and the colour drained from her face. Lev slowly turned in his seat, his gaze falling upon a corpulent body clad in priestly robes. Above it, several flabby chins and a smirking mouth. Lev started to feel slightly dizzy as blood rushed to his face and head.
“Brother monk,” the fat priest said. “What a surprise to see you here. And without another of your order? I’m sure that’s not allowed.”
“What would you know of what’s allowed and what’s not?” Lev shouted, pulling himself to his feet, using the table as support. His body was trembling, and everything seemed to be slowing down.
“I beg your pardon?” the fat priest’s jowls jiggled almost comically as he spoke, indignation in his voice.
“No, beg *her* pardon!” Lev pointed at Samara.
“Why you little codswallop!”
Lev stuttered, unable to think of a proper response, and without willing his body into motion, he hit the priest squarely in the mouth. The force of the blow sent both of them sprawling on the floor.
“Fight! Fight!” one of the inn’s patrons shouted. Lev could hear chairs moving and feet scuffling as everyone scrambled to get a good view.
“Ol’s balls! They’re both Stevenic priests! This’ll be good!”
Lev scrambled towards the mound of flesh lying on the floor not far away, but was caught by strong arms and pulled to his feet.
“Cephas’ boot, Lev!” Prior Yaroslav exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
“That — that …!” Lev shouted, and tried to break free of the prior’s grip to attack the priest again, who was struggling to his feet.
“Help me with him!” Yaroslav shouted to a couple of Cyruzhian monks who had apparently followed him to the inn. “Lev, this is not helping anyone!”
As Lev was dragged from the inn, he looked towards Samara, who was standing beside the table at which they had been sitting. His temper cooled a little and he allowed himself to go limp in his brothers’ arms. He kept his eyes on her as long as he could, on her rose-petal lips, her slender body … and the child that was growing inside it.
Rain poured down by the bucketful on Samara’s head as she scurried down the darkened alley towards the old woman’s house. She did not know the lady’s name; in fact, she was sure that few did. Many called the old crone a witch who conspired with evil gods. Some called for her to be cast out of the city. Samara was not certain that they were wrong, for the old woman would help her end an unwanted pregnancy this night. Many would have called such a thing murder, but all the same, Samara knew that she could not have this child. She could not allow Lev to destroy the life that he had with the Cyruzhian monks for her, or this child. More still, she could not give birth to the child of a fat Stevenic priest.
She reached a small, dark house that leaned up against the one next to it like a sickened beggar. After glancing about to be sure that no one else was around, she knocked on the rickety door. Without a word, an old crone opened the door and gestured for Samara to enter. The room into which Samara walked was a small, barren place, adorned only by a wooden table that bore several pots of strange smelling herbs, and a bench.
“Wait here,” the woman said, and promptly vanished into another room. Samara sat down on the bench. She was trembling and clasped her hands together in an effort to keep them still. She wished Lev were there; she always felt safer when he was around. Surely if he were there he’d try to get her to change her mind. He was very kind to her, and handsome in a plain sort of a way. Samara thought that she probably loved him. Part of her wished dearly for him to get a job as a notary and take care of her for all the days of her life. But at the same time, she knew she could not let him throw away such a promising life for her, a common whore.
When the old woman returned, she carried with her a small tub which she placed before Samara. The woman disappeared again, this time returning with a steaming bucket of water. She poured it into the tub, then left again. After three pails of hot water had been poured into the container, she took some herbs from the table and dropped them in. As she mixed the contents of the tub, a thick, acrid smell assaulted Samara’s nose and made her eyes water.
“What is that?” she gasped.
“Never mind that,” the old woman said, still stirring. “Now off with your shoes, pull up your dress and put your feet in the tub.”
Samara obeyed, and the instant she placed her feet in the water, screamed with sudden pain. The water was scalding hot.
“Shush! Lest the neighbours call the guard!” the old woman scolded, pushing Samara’s feet back into the water. “You’ll get used to it after a while. Now stand up.”
As Samara stood she nearly fell over, so great was the pain in her feet. The old woman caught her, however, and held Samara’s arms until she was steady enough to stand on her own. The old woman pulled Samara’s dress up so that her stomach was exposed, and Samara felt suddenly vulnerable. The fumes from the water burned her nose and throat, and as she looked down she saw that not only her feet, but her legs were turning bright red.
“You’re boiling me,” Samara sobbed.
“Pretty much,” the old woman said, pouring more hot water into the tub.
The menes crept by slowly. As time passed, the pain in Samara’s feet and legs eventually gave way to a dull ache, then to numbness. She got used to the smell as well, though tears continued to stream down her face. When she nearly fainted, the old woman gave her a staff to lean on, and added more hot water and herbs to the tub. An entire bell passed — Samara knew, for she could hear the bells of the Harbormaster’s Building clang twice — and then she finally passed out.
She awoke, who knew how much later, to see the old woman spreading some form of salve on her legs and feet.
“They’ll hurt for a while, but no permanent harm has been done,” the old woman said.
“And the baby?” Samara said.
“You’ll know before the sun rises.”
Lev walked alone down the Street of Travellers, a soft rain slowly soaking through his black cloak. He had snuck away from the group other monks some time ago, but doubted they had noticed he was gone. Not that it mattered — he would never see them again anyway.
He stopped to let a heavily laden cart pass, then continued on his way. Looking down at the ground, he contemplated his plight. The depraved priest, Samara and her child … he could not understand how God could allow such a situation to be. He could understand less how the church could.
Once the doubt had begun to gnaw at his beliefs like rats on a loaf of bread, it did not take long before Lev’s faith lay in tatters, like some battle-ravaged banner. He now doubted even the existence of God, but especially the worth of his vows.
In all this, the one thing he knew was Samara. He had decided not to fight his feelings, and in giving them free reign, had realised that he had fallen deeply in love with the girl. It mattered not at all to him that she was a prostitute. All that mattered was the way he felt when he was with her, how beautiful she was, and her child. Lev knew that he would love the child for being hers; that lecherous priest be damned!
Lev approached the now familiar Shattered Spear, not without a bit of apprehension. What he was about to tell Samara would change his life completely, in such a way that he had never fathomed. Prayers forgotten, he looked only to himself for the courage to travel the next few strides and enter the bawdy tavern.
Inside it was loud, as always, and warm with the many bodies packed into the room and the fire raging in the hearth. A small crowd of people exclaimed over a game of chance in one corner of the room, and a group of sailors loudly sang a rather vulgar song.
When he could not find Samara, Lev he asked one of the other barmaids who he had met during one of his visits to inn, “Where is Samara?”
“I dunno,” the girl replied. “She wasn’t well this morning. She’s probably in the back room.”
“Why would she be there?” Lev asked.
“That’s where us girls stay when we’re not working.”
“I see. Where is that?” Lev asked. “I must see her.”
“I guess there’s no harm in it. I’ve seen you with her before; you seem to be kind to her.” She took Lev through the kitchen to a door at the very rear of the inn. “There, she’ll be in there.”
Lev took several deep breaths to calm himself before entering the room. He had decided at last to cast aside his religious vows to be with Samara. He would neither wear the habit of a Cyruzhian monk, nor live in one of their monasteries. With his reading and writing skills, he would have little problem finding a job. He would marry Samara, and they would raise the child together.
Thus fortified, he strode forward and opened the door. He closed it gently behind him and called softly, “Samara?”
As he scanned the room, his eyes came to rest on a nearby bed. The sheets laying over the straw mattress were soaked in blood. Lev took an uncertain step towards the bed. He dropped his staff and fell to his knees.
In the centre of the blood stains lay a tiny shape, smaller than Lev’s fist. It was vaguely human shaped. Lev began to sob uncontrollably. He could make out the shape of a tiny human hand sticking in the air as if in a gesture for help.
“Oh, God!” Lev cried, as tears began streaming down his face. His vision blurred, and he toppled onto his face. “Oh, God, no!”
It could only be Samara’s baby that lay on the bed in front of him. He did not know how, but somehow she had miscarried, and now the child lay there dead, not having seen so much as one mene of the sun’s light. Lev had been willing to love the child as he loved Samara, to take on the duties of father. He had started to think of it as his own in a small way even. But now …
“Lev?” a weak voice said from a corner of the room.
Lev looked up towards the voice. He could not make out details, but saw a shadow huddled in the far corner. The voice had been Samara’s, though much weaker than he had ever heard it. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of his tunic and crawled over to her.
“Samara?” He tried to brush the tears from his eyes so he could see her, but more came to replace them.
“Lev, I’m sorry …”
Lev made it over to her and reached to touch her. She was wet to the touch. Lev pulled his hand back and found it was covered in blood. He blinked away the tears, fear suddenly gripping him with icy fingers. His vision cleared somewhat, and he could see that Samara was covered in blood. He pulled her into his arms.
“Samara, you’re bleeding!”
“Yes,” Samara whispered. “It came with the baby … but it never stopped. I’ve never had a child before … I don’t know what’s happening …”
“Don’t talk,” Lev brushed her hair away from her face. She was very pale, and her skin was cold to the touch. “I’ll get one of the healers –”
“No, it’s too late,” Samara said, grabbing Lev’s cloak with desperately strong hands. “I’m so cold, Lev. Please hold me.”
Lev hugged her as hard as he could. “It’s not too late; you’ll be all right!”
Lev clung to Samara desperately, for how long he did not know. Her breaths came slower and slower. She was limp in Lev’s arms.
“Samara, no!” Lev pleaded. “I’m going to leave the Cyruzhians! I’ll be your husband, I’ll take care of you! Please don’t leave me!”
Finally, she took a breath that was not followed by another. Lev buried his face in her neck and was wracked by uncontrollable sobbing. This couldn’t be happening! He was going to give everything up to take care of Samara, she couldn’t be dead …
One step after another, one foot in front of the next. Lev trudged slowly along behind the other Cyruzhian monks on their way back to Fennell Keep. A slow drizzle soaked his cloak and tunic through to the skin, and mud covered his shoes that dragged though the puddles of the road. He did not care. What difference did it make?
He stopped and looked behind him at Dargon. He was now at the crest of the hill from which he had first seen Dargon, several sennights ago now. Who knew that what he had then seen as an adventure would lead to such an end? Lev had watched as Samara was buried in one of the common graves for thieves and beggars just outside the city. He felt that she deserved better, but had no money of his own to pay for a burial plot elsewhere.
He longed to see her face again, or to hear her voice just one last time. But he could not escape the truth — he knew she was lost to him forever. No more air moved past her beautiful rose-petal lips; her eyes, the colour of the sky, held no more smiles for him.
“Come, novice Lev,” one of the monks called. “You’re falling behind again.”
Lev turned away from the city, to see that his brother monks were several paces ahead of him. While they waited, Lev staggered up the hill to catch up with them. He did not look forward to a lifetime spent in Heart’s Hope Monastery, but what choice did he have now that Samara was gone? One step after another, one foot in front of the next.