Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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Graybeard
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Post by Graybeard »

[Not a lot happening in this one, except for the last couple of paragraphs, but it's overdue to get posted. The ending of this thing is drawing near, although there are still at least three chapters to go.]


Chapter Sixty-five: Family matters

Sister Rose may have been fast asleep by the time the encounters in Saus happened (no small trick, considering how far west she was, and how recently the sun had gone down in Kiyoka), but she didn’t stay that way.

Maybe it had been the life within her, now in its second trimester, pressing on her bladder; she thought not, there was no way he or she could be large enough to do that effectively yet. Maybe it was the revelers coming back from town; the soon-to-be newlyweds and some of their close friends had gone into Kiyoka for one last party. (A bachelor party wasn’t in either Brother Farley’s or Brother Miguel’s style, and nobody at the mission could have figured out how to host one.) No, that wasn’t it either; none of them were staying at the vineyard except Sister Marilyn’s mother, and Rose could hear deep, even breathing from her room. Nerves about tomorrow (or later today, based on the hour, she wasn’t sure)? She’d certainly faced more stressful situations lately.

She would never know that she’d awakened at almost exactly the same time as something singularly unfortunate was starting to happen in Saus.

Whatever the reason, she arose to do her business and cast a quick Hygiene spell, managing not to awaken Argus in the process. However, on the way back to their room in the tidy little house at the vineyard, she realized that she wasn’t the only one who was having trouble sleeping.

“Hi, Brad,” she almost whispered to the man on the couch with his eyes half open. “Can’t sleep?”

Her cousin was awake enough to flash her a sheepish grin. “Well, there’s – there’s barely enough room in bed for me.” There was truth to this statement. Lillith was starting her third trimester, and between her small-but-bosomy build and the twins she was carrying, she was already assuming decidedly matronly proportions.

Rose wasn’t buying it, though. She debated internally for a moment as to whether to probe further, decided that she could; Brad was her cousin, after all. “That’s all?”

Brad shifted postures slightly. “I – well, I didn’t want to keep her awake. But why are you up?’

“The same thing,” Rose smiled. This was at least partially true, even if she didn’t know exactly why she’d had to get up. “Everything okay?” she pressed on.

Brad fessed up. “I – I guess I’m nervous. I love Lillith, and our son and daughter, so much, and I’m not sure I’m going to be a good dad.”

“Said every parent who’s ever been worthy of the name,” Rose chuckled. “Including me, if I’m going to be worthy of it. But relax. You’re going to be a great father.” She was sure of that.

Not many people would blush when trying to get to sleep at that hour of the night, but Brad managed. “Th—thank you. And you’ll be a fantastic mom too, just like you’re fantastic at everything.”

It was Rose’s turn to blush, although hers was not as theatric as her cousin’s. “It’s kind of you to say so, but there are lots of things I’m not fantastic at.” She yawned; the conversation was starting to have the desired effect of putting her back to sleep. “Including staying awake. Do you think you can go back to your wife now and not be fantastic at that, either?”

Yawns, of course, are contagious, and Brad followed suit; but he wasn’t done quite yet. “One more thing, Rose. Do you think – well – would it be okay –“

Out with it, thought Rose; she was definitely ready for some sleep now. She was not, however, ready for what Brad said next.

“—If we named the twins for you and Argus when they’re born?”

She blinked several times and her mouth worked, before it formed into a wide, and completely genuine, smile. “I – we’d be delighted, Brad. Delighted and honored tremendously. But have you talked to Lillith about this?”

A wry grin. “It was her idea, actually.”

“Well, then, do it with our blessing. I’m absolutely certain that Argus will feel the same way. Now go and get some sleep.”

The two cousins shared a warm hug, being careful not to press too hard on the child in utero, and returned to their respective mates. Both were asleep in seconds …

… Just as that very bad thing was coming to its conclusion in Saus.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Post by Graybeard »

Chapter Sixty-six: Gustaf and Lester; or, predator and prey

“How much longer do I have to wear this ridiculous getup?” Father Lester grumped; he was much less a fan of pomp and pageantry than the man he was mimicking.

“Only another two or three hours,” a satrap soothed him. “You just need to be seen entering the temple, waving to the crowds and such, and then you’ll be able to change back into your robes and exit unnoticed via the back door.”

“I certainly hope so,” Lester harrumphed again as another minion fussed over his hair to get it to look like Patriarch Jeramel’s. Lester was a minor functionary in the great temple at Emerylon who had never been exactly a people person. The upper echelon of the Orthodox Church had noticed this fact – and his resemblance to the Patriarch -- some years earlier, and had moved him from the small-town temple where he’d been the senior priest into an office job, where he would deal with ledgers and accounting records, for which he was much better suited than interacting with parishioners. (Or with other priests, for that matter.) He’d served as a body double for the Patriarch before, but not in situations requiring this much external show and resemblance.

“Now, now, you should get into character – Your Eminence,” the satrap said, twisting the knife a little. He didn’t find the man in his charge to be very likeable, but one had to do what one had to do. They began the process of getting Lester into the ceremonial robes that Jeramel favored.

Meanwhile, in another building a mile or so from the main temple in Saus where Lester was being prepared for his role, another man was also making preparations of a very different kind.

-*-*-

A rigorous investigation – well, relatively rigorous, the Church being unwilling to look too closely into what had happened to Lester, who would be missed by no one – would come up oddly empty in figuring out who this man was, which Farrelian guild (if any) he was a member of, why he was preparing to do what he would do. Even his name would never be known. (Call him “Gustaf.”) It would be clearer who he was not; not an agent of the sort-of-government of Farrel (the diplomatic incident would die down quickly), not a member of the Gewehr (certain factions within the Church were already eyeing them with interest, although they wouldn’t be put to use until much later), indeed not a Farrelite at all, based on the tone of his skin, what remained of it.

Of course, somebody knew, the “somebodies” in this case being a small cadre of Albigensians who retained a grudge against the Church. However, nobody thought to ask them.

No matter who had hired him, Gustaf had found a good sniper’s nest. A nondescript two-story building along the route of travel between temples had a “For Sale” sign in front of it, and a bit of scouting the previous day had revealed that the building was currently unoccupied. Better still, its roof had a small canopy on top, for Luminosita knew what reason. This had afforded him enough shelter from the soft, dripping rain known as Luminosita’s Tears that he got a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

When he awoke, the rain had stopped. He knew that it would resume in the afternoon; he was counting on it, in fact, to help remove any traces of his presence … like, say, magically-silenced casings of a rifle round or two. In this, Gustaf was a pioneer of sorts, anticipating the silenced ammunition that a certain Gewehr assassin would use a couple of years later. They were expensive, and he only had three, to go along with his more plentiful regular ammunition. That would be more than enough. He tidied up his improvised campsite, loaded his weapon with the silenced rounds, and settled down for the hardest part of an assassin’s job: waiting.

-*-*-

“Okay, let’s get this over with,” Lester said.

He truly did resemble Patriarch Jeramel, after his entourage was done with him; more than did the man at the Reformed temple, despite similar ministrations (and Sister Margaret’s and Father Stefan’s counsel). They’d taken the precaution of tampering with one of his shoes, just enough that he would limp slightly and be convincing in his use of a cane. He hobbled out to the waiting carriage, wearing a most insincere smile and making the Sign of Luminosita at the adoring(?) crowd that had assembled – or rather, been assembled – to watch him. The carriage pulled away as two other vehicles bearing a ceremonial guard fell in ahead of and behind him.

-*-*-

Meanwhile, a much less ostentatious, but much more crucial, caravan was leaving the Mechanist temple, and another was preparing to leave the Reformed one; the latter was closer to the destination, and there would be no need for it to depart yet.

-*-*-

Any time now, Gustaf thought. Then: “Aha,” he said softly to himself, softly enough that no one would hear (he hoped). A single wagon full of soldiers and priests was coming down the road; evidence, he thought, that his quarry was on its way. He was no spellcaster, but like many others in his trade, he had a visceral awareness of magic. This told him that there were spells being cast by the priests, presumably some kind of detection magic. He had to hope that the amulet he’d picked up in Albigenish – ironically, what might be called “military surplus” left over from the military action there years before (a leftover that would have mortified Sister Rose, among others, if she'd known of it) – would defeat whatever scrying was going on.

Apparently, it did; the wagon passed the building where he was hiding and continued on toward the temple.

It wouldn’t be long now …
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