Sacrilege – Chapter 1

The Girl from Gleanne

Rosalind found herself studying her figure in the mirror. Today, she was going to be a good girl. It meant tying her auburn hair into a stern, professional ponytail; it meant wearing a skirt rather than shorts; it meant concealing her impressive cleavage in a proper blouse under insufferable summer heat; most importantly, it meant no crossbows. Rosalind felt lonely without it strapped around her leg. It was sacrifices like these that made being a good girl difficult.

‘Morning dad,’ Rosalind greeted Nileas from over the stairwell, ‘what would you like for breakfast?’

Nileas looked up, smiling. He was always smiling. Over the years, Rose had learnt to decipher the meaning hidden behind each one. ‘Good morning, Rose. Toasts are in the oven, milk is –’

‘I know I know,’ Rosalind interrupted the old man, ‘you’re over sixty, dad. Why not sleep in for once? You never let me cook.’

‘I’ve seen that enough times to know it’s a bad idea, sweetie,’ laughed the old Master, then coughing briefly, ‘besides, I thought I should spare you the trouble on your big day.’

There was wheezing in her father’s cough that Rosalind did not like. She descended, kissed his wrinkles and made for the kitchen.

‘You should really go see Vincent about that,’ said Rosalind between gulps of bread and milk, ‘you weren’t this bad last summer.’

‘Vincent has more important things to take care of,’ waved the man, ‘I know these old bones better than any doctor. I’ll be fine.’

Rosalind chose not to voice her worries any further. Nileas may be kind but he was stubborn. She thought of visiting Vincent on her own to see if she could bring the man down but decided against it; the last time they met at the markets it took a good minute to exchange pleasantries. I’ll write to him, she decided.

She scoffed down the last morsel of bread and bolted out the door. The morning air was still brisk and cool. It was Gleanne’s way to deceive its residents into a false sense of security before unleashing the full fury of the sun onto the town. It made Rosalind sweat just thinking about it.

Their next door neighbour was seated in her yard, stroking a parrot perched on her hand. Espying Rosalind, Mrs Lanrook stood and made as if to hide her precious bird. She backed away from the girl and stared at her through narrowed, suspicious eyes.

‘No crossbow today, dear?’ A hint of bitterness tinged her voice. ‘Crossbow, crossbow, crossbow!’ echoed the parrot.

‘No, Mrs Lanrook,’ Rosalind wondered whether she came off as polite or aloof, ‘how is Jerry Junior?’

‘Jerry’s fine, thank you,’ Mrs Lanrook turned her back on Rosalind, ‘you just stay away from my children!’

This exchange has gone on for five years. It became somewhat of a tradition after that unfortunate accident in which Jerry became Jerry Senior.

Rosalind closed her book in alarm. The racket next door was most distressing for a girl her age. She poked her head out of the attic, and to her horror, saw a tabby pushing its paws against poor Jerry’s cage.

‘Swift as arrows; sharp as swords.’

She uttered these words just as the knights in the stories did before going to battle. She had always loved Jerry; the bird was so clever that it learnt her name in but one evening.

Hurriedly, she loaded her crossbow with a round-headed bolt and scrambled on to the slanted ceiling.

Swish went the arrow. The scared tabby made a quick exit, fearing for its life. Jerry’s squawking ceased. Rosalind covered her mouth in terror. The bird fell dead like a ripe apple.

Agatha would frequently gather girls for tea. After that incident, she made sure Rosalind was never invited. No amount of apologies could change the old lady’s mind.

‘Have a nice day,’ said Rosalind half-heartedly as she watched the woman disappear her house, then added in a much smaller voice, ‘you senile, birdbrain witch.’

Rosalind headed off, determined not to let this encounter ruin her day. The crisp sound of clashing weapons roused her attention. Excited by the prospect of action, she raced down the streets slashed by shadows of tall lampposts.

The Watch had already occupied the town square. Volunteers, better known as Eyes, were busy with their quarterstaffs. To one side were the boys, standing in circular formation. Overseeing their training was the Gleanne knight, a stout man by the name of Wallace Baldrim.

‘One!’ boomed the knight who was seated by the fountain, ‘two! Three!’

‘One!’ echoed the boys, ‘two! Three!’

To the other side of the fountain were older men. Their training involved various forms and combat exercises. One of the taller youths, spotting Rosalind, slipped out of the ranks and made his way towards her. She shuddered. It was Erwin.

‘You in a skirt,’ he laughed, ‘I thought I’d never see the day. Quite the lady you have become.’

‘Hello Erwin,’ Rosalind breathed frost, ‘shouldn’t you be training? I heard the Eyes of the Watch were diligent men.’

‘And indeed we are,’ Erwin gave his staff a twirl, ‘see?’

Rosalind managed a cool, formal smile.

‘You don’t believe me,’ the man stared down at her with such a foolish grin that Rosalind wished she could slap him across the face, ‘then let me show you.’

Erwin made for the ring and voiced his challenge. Rosalind rolled her eyes. Given equal skill and weapon, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Erwin was easily the biggest man of this group. A stray blow to the gut was all he needed to floor his opponent. Laughing aloud, he helped the man to his feet.

‘Any other takers?’ yelled Erwin, ‘come forth!’

The show made Rosalind gag. There was nothing harder to stomach than Erwin’s arrogance. When no challengers came forth, he saw it fit to taunt the onlookers before returning to her triumphantly. That only made things worse.

‘Best hand with the staff in Gleanne,’ he grinned, ‘as you can see, I’m not the boy you floored so many years ago.’

And I can floor you again! But Rosalind restrained the urge to snatch the nearest staff and dislodge his front teeth. Today, she was a good girl; good girls do not try and best other men in combat, however tempting that may be.

‘Where’s Boris?’ asked Rosalind, ignoring the boastful man, ‘I heard he volunteered to be an Eye a few weeks back.’

‘The Watch doesn’t need losers like him,’ guffawed the big man, ‘even the fat knight said so. Couldn’t even take a smack to the wrist and he calls himself man.’

‘Is he hurt?’ asked Rosalind, concerned.

‘What’s it to you?’

Rosalind glared at him.

‘Of course not,’ said Erwin. For a moment, he saw the angry girl that put him in Vincent’s ward for a week. Her hard eyes made it seem like it happened yesterday, ‘he’s fine. I saw him outside the Bar on my way here, not that he has any business being there –’

‘Blind the Lady,’ gasped Rosalind, ‘I’m late!’

Without saying goodbye, Rosalind ran off. Erwin however, called after her, much to her disgust.

‘You can always do better, Rose!’

She ignored him. Just as she expected, she found good old Boris standing outside the Bar. That mule! Just seeing his familiar profile brought a smile to her lips.

‘Hi Boris,’ Rosalind ran to him, ‘sorry to keep you waiting.’

Boris Hardend was a year her senior, but was the smaller of the two. Today too, his shirt had a hole in it. Trousers, a few sizes too big, were tied to his hips with rope. His ears, large and triangular, ruined what would otherwise be a fine profile. A small but deep scar decorated his cheek. The line fell just short of his large, uncertain eyes.

‘No…I ah,’ stammered Boris, ‘I just…I just got here too.’

‘That’s good.’

‘You look wonderful.’

Rosalind blushed. It was strange that such a plain compliment coming from her childhood friend would delight her.

‘Thank you.’

‘No crossbow today?’

Rosalind laughed.

‘I was so happy when I heard you made Adept,’ Boris went on, ‘I knew you would. You were always strong and smart.’

‘It was nothing,’ said Rosalind, ‘did you make it?’

Boris shook his head.

‘There must be some mistake,’ Rose felt outraged, ‘you were doing perfectly before you –’

‘Rose,’ Boris smiled sadly, ‘I knew I would fail. The only thing I’m good at is failing.’

‘Don’t say that,’ Rosalind pressed his hands, ‘don’t you ever say that, Boris Hardend. You fletch the best arrows of the Dominion and you know it. I’m sure if you try again you’ll make it.’

‘Thanks Rose,’ Boris retracted his hand, wincing, ‘but honestly. Take a look at me. I’m as slow and ugly as a mule. Every time I try to invoke the Craft my brothers fight for the nearest exit, for a good reason too!

‘I mean, I mean…I just can’t do this. I don’t have the strength or skills for an Adept. I’m…too…too much of a coward for the Watch. If one day my arrows happen to make you a heroine, then I’ll die a happy man. That’s all I ask for…no, that’s all I can ask for.’

‘Boris, that’s not true,’ these words cut Rosalind deeper than they did Boris, ‘that’s not true at all. Whatever the other boys tell you, whatever your father says, none of it is true. I know you Boris. You’re kind, compassionate and thorough.

‘So maybe you’re not so good at battle Crafts, and maybe you’re not as much of an overgrown wart as Erwin, but you have good hands. I know it. It’s no accident my arrows always find their target. It’s because of you Boris.’

‘You’re just a good shot.’

‘I think Mrs Birdbrain will have something to say about that.’

Boris laughed. He hadn’t felt in such good spirit for quite some time.

Together, the two friends entered the Bar. Though often mistaken for a tavern by people outside the Dominion, the Bar was by no means a place of entertainment. It was a modest hall of business. To the left were boards pinned full of small, colourful cards. On a busier day, it would be swarmed by Inquisitors and Adepts.

To the right, under small windows and rays of sunshine, were three sets of tables and chairs. To the centre of each was a hole that accommodated half a dozen quills. They too, were unoccupied. This was where Order members would often sit writing up reports.

‘Rose,’ a young woman greeted Rosalind, ‘you’re a bit early. The Director will be here soon.’

‘Hi Anna,’ Rosalind responded in equally good nature.

‘Hello,’ chorused Boris, in a smaller voice.

Anna rushed to give Rosalind a tight hug. She ran so fast her waves of brown curls could barely keep up with her.

‘I’m so proud of you!’ squealed Anna, ‘an Adept, look at you. You look splendid!’

‘Anna,’ giggled Rosalind, ‘you’re embarrassing me.’

Anna did not appear to hear her.

‘This calls for celebrations,’ she turned to Boris, as if noticing him for the first time, ‘got a moment, Boris?’

‘Of – of course,’ said Boris.

The two ducked out of the hall and into the storage room. There was hardly any space between the shelves of paperwork to stand; they were so close to each other that Boris looked away, feeling uncomfortable.

‘Bring Rose to my house at nine o’clock sharp,’ whispered Anna, though there was little chance of them being overheard, ‘she must suspect nothing. I’ll gather the folks while you keep her occupied for the day.’

‘I can…I can do that,’ said Boris slowly, ‘it shouldn’t be…too hard.’

‘Good!’ smiled Anna, ‘now get going. Go, what are you waiting for?’

By the time they returned to the hall they saw Rosalind being accosted by a lanky man. The Director, Cain Edgeworth, presented her with a flower-shaped badge and the Runeseer Order Handbook.

‘From hence forth,’ said the Director with a sombre tone, ‘you, Rosalind Eltridge, are an Adept of the Runeseer Order. You’re hereby entrusted with the powers of the Arcane Craft and the duty to uphold the Runeseer Code. Bring glory and honour to our Society.’

‘Thank you, Mr Edgeworth,’ said Rosalind, ‘I shall do my best. Am I the only one who passed?’

‘Sadly, yes,’ Cain’s lips twitched, ‘the quality of candidates were very low. Thank the Lady that you came. I doubt the town of Gleanne can suffer such humiliation three years in a role.’

Rosalind blushed, not knowing what to say. Cain went on without due ceremony.

‘You have three days to prepare. An assignment has come. It requires an Adept and Inquisitor. Have Anna organise your travels. You are going to Trisblanc.’

Cain disappeared into his office without saying another word. The three youths in the hall were left looking at one another. The surprise wore off and was quickly replaced by jubilation. Anna again, caught Rosalind in a hug. Rosalind herself however, still thought this too good to be true. For someone expecting local jobs for a good few years, this was certainly a welcoming, if not overly generous opportunity. She wondered whether Nileas had anything to do with it.

‘You hear that!’ cried Anna, laughing, ‘you’re going to the central branch on your first assignment!’

‘I guess,’ she played along, making a mental note to speak to Nileas about the matter.

‘I’ll schedule your journey right away,’ said an excited Anna, ‘come back on the day and I’ll have it laid out for you.’

Rosalind went out into the streets, accompanied by Boris. Together, they left behind the stone roads and wooden houses for the boundless, furtive greens. The tall grass waved greeting at their visitors as a warm breeze passed by. Riding the lush blades, golden waves of sunlight raced one another to the end of the horizon. Off the beaten tracks, by pristine ponds clear as glass, were red wildflowers that set the landscape ablaze.

She couldn’t wait. As she ran, Rosalind tossed away her boots and stocking. Impatiently, she dipped her feet into the waters she knew so well. Boris, collecting her items along the way, struggled to her side. She giggled at his awkward figure and handed him flower badge.

‘Here,’ she smiled, ‘would you do the honours?’

Boris nodded. He struggled to ping the white rose on her chest. At first, she though Boris was savouring the touch of her breasts but realised she was mistaken; under his ragged sleeve were many layers of bloodstained dressing. When finished, Boris looked up at her, smiling.

‘Now you’re an Adept, in name and looks.’

Rosalind was not as jovial.

‘Boris,’ said Rosalind, ‘show me your hand.’

‘It’s…it’s nothing.’

‘Show me,’ demanded Rosalind, firmly, ‘go on.’

When he didn’t respond, Rosalind gave a sigh and rolled up his sleeve. She gasped at the horrendous sight. It was no wonder that Boris didn’t join the Watch this morning.

‘Boris, were you fighting with blunt swords?’

‘I don’t…I don’t remember.’

‘In the name of the Great Lady, tell me!’ Rosalind became angry, ‘did you fight with blunt-edged swords?’

He nodded.

‘That’s crazy! Did Sir Baldrim allow it?’

‘No…I –’

‘Have you seen Vincent about this?’

‘Yes…’ answered Boris timidly, ‘he said…said to…give it some time.’

Rosalind released his hand.

‘Who did this to you?’ asked Rosalind darkly.

‘I don’t…know.’

‘Do I look stupid to you?’ Rosalind yelled, ‘Boris, tell me!’

‘It was…it was them.’

Rosalind didn’t need names. For once, she was glad the Society forbade its members to use the Craft against civilians.

‘Boris,’ said Rosalind, ‘get me some arrows.’

Being a good girl was just too hard.

 A/N: people have claimed that my dialogue have been punctuated incorrectly. I’m however, still in search of an authority on that matter. Please help where possible. 

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