The three men stood apart from each other, occasionally glancing over to make eye contact and subtle gestures with their hands. Nervously, they glanced towards the tall man who was walking between the many stalls, apparently searching for something. Every so often, a person would come up to him and chat with him, before being waved off, as the man took another awkward step forward, moving to the next stall. Aerger looked at his men and made a flick with his hand, down beneath his waist, causing the other two to split off into the dwindling crowd.
His black hair was cut short seemingly not too long ago, but it had already begun to grow out unkempt and unwashed, much like his weak, patchy beard. He pulled up his hood and moved on to the next stall, fumbling around with some assorted objects on the table to appear busy. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the tall man had moved on once again and so he set down the earthenware pot he held and moved on as well. The annoyed vendor shook her head and reached up to close the cloth flap hanging above her stand for the night.
Aerger looked towards one of his men, who had found his way to the next row, standing behind the tent that the tall man was in-front of. It was the before-last stall on the platform, the last one had already closed shop for the night. The tall man stopped before it, talking to the old woman behind the counter. The tall man with the strange mask made several gestures with his hands, seemingly about width and height, as if he were showing her the dimensions of some object. Aerger moved closer.
She seemed to be asking him several things, some of which he seemed unsure about, others he could answer more readily. They seemed to have come to an understanding and the old woman nodded to him. The tall man reached into his pocket and pulled out a few assorted coins. The woman took one and bit into it, laughing at the tall man with an old, well worn smile. She motioned to the tall man with a finger to wait and retreated back to her tent for a time. Aerger looked around, the platform was about empty now.
His man stood to the side of the tent, his other would be in place by now. Aerger turned his head and whistled once sharply and quickly. The tall man turned to look at the noise. Aerger’s other man sat on a crude circle he had drawn onto the wooden platform with chalk behind a tent, where nobody could see him. As he heard the whistle, he whispered the word aloud, placing his palms into the sigil. It set alight and the lantern above him fell dark in an instant. Then the one next to that and then the one after.
It only took a second, but the lanterns on the platform pulsed out, as if a large gust of wind had blown through, extinguishing them all in one fell swoop. Aerger couldn’t see it, but he heard the rushed sounds of footsteps as his man ran towards the tall man who was standing near the railing, the sounds of a short scuffle, followed by fearful yelp which quickly faded down into the abyss along with its source. He turned to walk the straight path back off of the platform, back towards solid ground.
One by one, the lights flickered back on, flowing back out in the same direction as the man as he walked. The old woman came back out of the rear of her tent and looked around. She leaned over the counter and called out for somebody who wasn’t there. Puzzled, she looked at the little dress she had just finished shortening and placed it on the side for when the tall, masked man came back, he did pay for it generously after all.
Esper sat at the table and ate the light brown gruel from the bowl. It tasted bland, but it was hot and filled her body with a similar warmth to that which the water had given her before. “Is this soup?” she asked.
“It’s porridge, girl,” said the old woman, waving a finger at Esper.
“Haah?” Esper looked at the thick concoction, it was clearly much different than her own recipe. It was much less sour and pungent for starters, though she thought she might like this kind more actually.
Shrugging it off as just one of the great mysteries of life the girl sank her spoon back in and took another large bite of the mash consisting of many different boiled oats and grains. The old woman turned her head from the pot to look at the child. The wide robe with folded up sleeves and bottom was almost comically too large for the girl, it brought to contrast her bony and malnourished body. The woman made a scornful scowl. She reached down into the pot and grabbed the ladle, taking another large scoop out of it.
Carrying it over with her hand held beneath it to catch any drops, she poured it into the girl’s now almost empty bowl. “Eat child. You’re nothing but skin and bones.”
“fhanc jou,” mumbled Esper out, her mouth still full.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, girl,” scolded the woman and went back to her work, shaking her head.
Esper swallowed the food in her mouth and looked to the woman stirring the pot. “Bubble, bubble.”
“Are you a witch?” asked Esper.
“Good heavens girl, no. I am a servant of my lord.”
Esper looked at the woman curiously. Setting the spoon down for a moment, the girl wrapped both her hands around a relatively large wooden cup and took a drink of the crisp water inside, her eyes still locked to the old woman.
Seeing that she didn’t understand, the woman continued without turning her head. “I was chosen by my lord to do his work. I was blessed with a gift of healing and so I set to do so, to do what I can, to live up to his expectations.” She scooped more of the porridge out into several other bowls, before covering them with wooden lids. “This chapel is where I work. I heal the sick and do what I can for the hungry.”
“Mm,” said Esper, shoving another full spoon into her mouth as she continued looking at the old woman.
The room was small, but it had a warm and cozy smell to it. Two doors adorned the walls, one on each side of the room. Sister Johanna stood before a large kettle, next to a basin and worked the fire.
“I like your dress.”
“It’s a robe, girl. All sisters of the light wear one like it.”
“Huh? I thought you were Journeyman’s sister.”
The woman looked at the girl. “I am by blood. But all the other priestesses of the holy light are my sisters as well, not by blood but by birthright.” Esper cocked her head not sure she followed, but with a warm body and full stomach she was getting too tired to want to satisfy her curiosity anymore.
However, another more interesting question arose to her mind's forefront despite the lull. “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have one anymore, girl,” answered the woman almost instantly.
She rang the ladle over the pot loudly to remove the porridge still clinging to it, before placing it into a water filled basin to her side.
“Because journeymen lose their names and identity once they take the messenger’s oath,” snipped the woman. Esper began to formulate another new question in her mind but once more, her exhaustion was becoming apparent. Looking down to her bowl, she ran the spoon around it a few more times, scraping up everything she could and took her last bite.
Once she had swallowed it down, she set the spoon in the empty bowl and leaned back, the high wooden chair she was sitting on cross-legged creaking. The old priestess sealed the last bowl and stacked them on top of each other. “I will put you to bed and then I will deliver these to the hungry. So don’t make a fuss while you’re alone here, and don’t leave the building,” said the woman. “The last thing this town needs is another child wandering near the pit or finding a corpse.” Esper wanted to tell her that she was a gravedigger and that that wouldn’t bother her, but her eyes and mind were growing unbearably heavy.
Seeing this, the woman went over to her and picked her up once more, as unceremoniously as the times before, heaving her into the air with her gargantuan strength. “Come, let’s put you to bed.”
Esper yawned, covering her mouth “where’s Journeyman?”
“I suspect he’ll be back soon, he’s probably off at the magistrate’s or doing some nonsense.”
“What’s a magi-”
“Hush girl. No more questions,” scolded the woman, carrying her back out to the main room. There was one final door in the room that had remained a mystery until now. Esper looked at the large bag the man had left behind as they walked past it, still sitting there out in the middle of the circular entry room.
The tall woman leaned against the handle with her elbow and it creaked open. Inside was a small room with four cots, one in each corner. A large, colorful window adorned the far wall, depicting a scene that was not clearly visible without the light of the day. Metals bars could be seen through from the other side however, barring the window shut. Esper’s eyes grew wide at the sight of four beds in one room, it seemed preposterous. She looked to the woman carrying her towards the furthest one “Are you rich?”
The woman set her down on the cot furthest to the left and placed a finger on the girl's lips, telling her to shush. “Go to sleep. I will return shortly, once I have finished my rounds.”
She lifted up the tightly tucked blanket and watched as the girl took off the large robe, setting it onto the foot of the bed and then crawled under the covers. Once she was there, the tall woman laid the blanket back over her and watched as the child almost instantly fell limp, as sleep came within her first breaths. The tall woman shook her head and went out the door, making sure to place the bar down before it, locking it, wondering what the universe wouldn’t do to a child. For the first time, a smile came to her face, now that she was alone, happy that she was blessed to do such kind work for her lord.
Support "Oratoria: Bury the Dead"
- Floor 69 of the metaphorical-dungeon
- Novice Writer
Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.
The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°
Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)
– Always open for feedback!