Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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

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[And the final installment, apart from a brief epilogue that I'll try to get out before New Year's. It has been a long, fun ride, and I'm going to miss Sister Rose, Argus, Lillith, Brad, and so on dearly -- but they deserve some time to rest. If you're still reading this, thanks, and Happy Holidays. Final note: some time after the first of the year, while awaiting the next installment of tales of the Errant World -- hint, hint, Poe and Impy -- there will be some much shorter fanfic tying up some of the loose threads left hanging here, and/or a few other character sketches.]


Chapter Seventy-five: Absolution

“Okay, Red, what’s going on?” Sister Rose asked as soon as she and Father Redmond made it back to the Abbot’s chambers and the Damping field that Red had not dismissed. “You look like you’ve just –“

Red raised a hand and cut her off, with the first words he’d said since the two left the sanctuary and the wedding reception. (Was there magic in that interruption? Rose wondered for a long time, eventually deciding that there wasn’t, but one couldn’t be sure.) “Sister Rose Nuria-Cleiviein,” he intoned, “by the powers invested in me by the Patriarch of the Church of Our Lord Luminosita, I hereby absolve you of the vows you took upon joining our Holy Church, and the rights and obligations pertaining to your position as a nun of that Church. From this day forward, you have neither such rights nor such obligations, save that which Luminosita requires of all His followers: to love Him and to do good.” The ritual words spoken, he emitted a deep sigh and looked like he was about to collapse.

Rose was thunderstruck. “Th-thanks, Your Holiness,” she stammered; that was the right title for a layperson to use when addressing an Abbot, wasn’t it? She was going to say more, but Red interrupted again. “It’s still just Red, silly.” At least he had a tiny trace of his old smile back, but just a trace.

That provoked Rose to a brief smile of her own. “It’s also just Nuria. We talked about that during the reception, and Argus is good with me using my maiden name, like most Tsuirakuans do.” The smile vanished. “But what’s the rush for this? And why so gloomy? You look like you’ve lost your best friend.” Now why did he start crying again? “If I’d known this absolution was going to have this effect on you, I wouldn’t have asked for it.”

“It’s not you …” Red said, staring off into the distance at whatever “it” was that was causing him this distress.

Rose pondered for a moment whether her colleagues in the Church would disapprove of her enveloping the Abbot in a motherly hug, decided that they could go hang if they did, and went for it. Sister Toni blushed slightly and beat a quick retreat, leaving the two alone.

The embrace seemed to work; Red was no longer weeping when he and Rose pulled apart, but he did produce a long sigh. “You’d better sit down for this,” he said, and went over to where he knew a bottle of Rising Moon Vineyard’s wine was secreted (one of several discoveries he’d made about the previous Abbot’s … quirks), along with a pair of wineglasses. Catching Rose’s surprised look, he gave another short-lived smile. “It’s okay, your young’un isn’t going to have any health problems from just one glass … and I’d wager that you’ve had, and will have, damn few other such glasses since you found out.”

“That’s a wager you’d win,” Rose admitted; in fact, she’d had zero, none, nada alcohol since she’d discovered she was pregnant, and had every intention of keeping it that way. “But why … oh.” Now, suddenly, she was the one who looked like she’d lost her best friend. She sat down as directed, Red joining her and pushing a half-filled glass in her direction (and another in his own). “It’s about Margaret, isn’t it?”

Now how did she figure that out? Red wondered briefly, but there was no need to press the question; everything he’d heard about the woman sitting across the table from him indicated that she was almost uncannily good at putting two and two together. “It is,” he said softly. “Margaret, and much more. What I’m going to say next does not leave this room until there is a public announcement – or until you get called up in your military role … Colonel. And I will do everything in my power to prevent that.” Rose’s eyes had widened at the mention of her breveted rank in the reserves, not with appreciation but with horror; but his final sentence at least dispelled that.

“Oh my god,” Rose breathed. “She’s – she’s –“ She couldn’t finish the sentence, but she did nod agreement to the terms of what was coming next.

Red chose his words carefully. “We don’t know for sure. There is much that we don’t know. What we do know is that before the consecration of the temple, there were not one but two attempts on the Patriarch’s life.” (Only two? a cynical corner of Rose’s mind intruded briefly; the man surely had enough enemies for more than that. But she tamped that corner down as Red continued.) “He’s fine, Luminosita be praised for that. But many others are not. One … one of the attempts was an explosive device of some kind at the temple.” A bitter laugh. “It might well have caught him there, if he hadn’t been diverted from going there by the other attempt.” Another one. “Luminosita’s Hand at work. But … but …” He couldn’t go on without a deep drink from his wine, which started the tears flowing again.

“And it is thought that Margaret was one of those ‘others’,” Rose said hollowly.

“It is,” Red confirmed as soon as he was able to speak. “Again, not certain yet. No – remains have been found. But certain of her possessions have, including a pair of glasses that had been partially melted by the explosion. Melted. People that knew – know her say she never went anywhere without them.”

“That’s true,” Rose managed to get out. “She was blind as a bat without them. She – she –“ And then the dam broke.

“It’s my fault,” Rose cried, and she sank sobbing into her chair, knocking over her wineglass.

The near-certainty that this moment had been coming, from the first time Red read about the glasses, had given him a little time to prepare for it, but not enough; there could never be enough. He rose carefully from his seat, circled the table to the shattered ex-nun, and did his best to return the comforting hug that she had given him a few minutes earlier. “No, it’s not,” he said gently. “If it was anyone’s fault except the assassin’s, it was mine. I’m the one who allowed –“

”I should have gone,” Rose interrupted fiercely. “They didn’t ask for Margaret. They asked for me. If I’d been there instead, I might have figured out some way to –“

Red’s turn to interrupt, which he did as he grasped Rose’s shoulders firmly; in other circumstances, this might have been enjoyable or inappropriate or both. At this moment, he did not care about any circumstances other than the actual ones. “Rose,” he said quietly, “if you’d been there, you would have been caught in the blast … and then two lives would have been lost instead of one.” Reaching down to touch the belly that carried that second life definitely wouldn’t have been right even in these circumstances, so he had to settle for a pointed look in that direction.

That got through immediately (and Red would later thank Luminosita profusely that it had), and Rose’s rage vanished as though the last of it had escaped from a suddenly punctured balloon. “You’re right,” she said softly, rubbing the womb with her unborn child without thinking about it. “Luminosita’s Nuts, you’re right. I could risk my own life in Luminosita’s – the world’s service; heaven knows I’ve done that recently.” (Red noticed the self-correction; what happened up north apparently had even farther-reaching consequences than he’d been imagining.) “But I can’t risk this life, not any more. I was a fool to do that at all.”

Red passed her his wineglass, noting with relief that she took just a sip from it, although her hands were still trembling to the point that the fluid came close to spilling. “No, you weren’t,” he corrected her. “You were doing what you had to do. You wouldn’t have been you, and your child wouldn’t have the mother she deserves, if you hadn’t kept trying to do the right thing.” He smiled gently. “As you will continue to do for the rest of your life. I’m confident of that.”

Rose brightened; that last bit had given her an idea. “But I can still be helpful. There’ll be an investigation of these two assassination attempts, and I can join that. I have some magic that will help, maybe know some people. I –“

“Can’t do that,” Red interrupted. “The investigation has already started.” He reached over to where a highly classified paper sat on his desk; he hadn’t had time to dispose of it yet. “It says here, very clearly, that only senior clergy of the Church of Luminosita can be part of that investigation. As of ten minutes ago, you’re no longer one of those … Mrs. Cleiviein.”

“And you arranged that, made sure they couldn’t ask me.”

“Guilty as charged, Your Honor.” Red’s omnipresent smile was returning for a visit, although it couldn’t linger.

“You bastard,” Rose said softly. (Red wasn’t sure whether the phrase held anger or humor or approval, or all three. For that matter, neither was Rose.) “But why?”

Red opened the door and dispelled the Damping. “There’s your answer,” he said softly, gesturing down the hallway. “About five feet ten, slender, graying, well-kept beard. Sound like anyone you know?” Indeed, such a person was standing with Brad and Lillith in the nearly empty sanctuary, concern etched into his handsome – Tsuirakuan – face.

“I cannot communicate to you,” Red continued wistfully, “how much I envy that man, and envy you.” (Rose’s head jerked around at that last part.) “You’re going to have something that I haven’t had outside the church for many years: a loving family. I understand that that party also includes your stepdaughter, and step-grandchildren in the making. Is that right?”

“It … is. And … yes, Red, I guess you’re right. But promise me one thing.”

“And that is?” He almost didn’t need to ask.

“That once we’re all settled down, and our child is born along with Argus’ grandchildren and life is good again, if the Church of Luminosita needs me, you’ll call.”

Red twinkled. “I will, but only on one condition: that our need is greater than theirs. And that, Rose, is a pretty high bar.”

Rose bowed her head slightly. “I’m going to miss you, Red.” It may have been an incongruous thing to say, given how recently she'd come to know the Abbot of the Temple of Our Lord Luminosita in Kiyoka, but Rose never lied. The feeling was mutual.

“And I you. Now go in Luminosita’s peace.”

Tears were forming in both sets of eyes again as Rose stepped into the hallway, the door closing softly behind her. She strode down the hall to where her family awaited. “Well,” she said, taking Argus’ arm, “let’s go home.”
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Post by Graybeard »

[And the grand finale. Thanks for reading; this has been immense fun. Maybe some short stuff after the first of the year, and until then, Happy Holidays!]

Epilogue: Six months later

“GYYAAAHH!” no-longer-Sister Rose screamed, in the time-honored manner of women in the final throes of giving birth.

“Keep it up, honey, you’re doing great,” Argus reassured her, in the similarly time-honored manner of the spouse and father of the mother-to-be and impending child, respectively. He was sure it was the case, but he’d stolen a glance at the attending Lifemage just to be certain, getting a most comforting nod in reply.

“That’s easy for you to say,” groaned Rose, but Argus merely smiled, remembering what Cirella had snarled at the very similar culmination of her first pregnancy. ”If I live through this, I’m never going to let you touch me again!” Of course, as soon as Addon was born, the tune changed, and plenty of “touching” would follow, resulting among other things in Fayna, now sitting anxiously in the waiting room. The fact that he could laugh at this memory was proof positive of how much healing he’d done in the last few months.

Only Rose, Argus, the Lifemage and a nurse were in the birthing room, but the birth still had its share of witnesses. The waiting room was equipped with a window into the birthing room that could magically transform from open view to one-sided mirror to completely opaque at the push of a thaumatic control. It had been open from the moment Rose was comfortably installed in the birthing bed; if anything was going wrong, the Lifemage or nurse could turn it opaque at the snap of a finger. There had been no such snap, nor more unexpectedly, any instruction from Rose or Argus to turn the visibility off or one-way. (“They’ve been so supportive for the last few months, may as well give them a good show,” Rose had commented dryly at the start of proceedings.) The contraction eased just long enough for Rose to peek out at her “audience.”

There were Brad and Lillith, holding three-month-old Rosie and Argie, respectively; Lillith with head bowed, no doubt asking the “spirits” for help with what she was watching. Not too surprisingly for a petite woman carrying twins, her own pregnancy had been more difficult than Rose’s, and the deliveries … tense, but she and they had pulled through, to receive tandem blessings from Rose and Shamhat, Lillith’s mother and fellow nature priestess. (Rose semi-wished she’d been able to stay in the Church long enough for that to have been “official;” Luminositan nun and nature cultist cooperating on blessing newborns might have scandalized the more hidebound Luminositans, but to the less hidebound, a point would be made.) Rose’s mother had made it from Saus, and to Rose’s and Argus’ appreciation, was sitting quietly with Fayna, reassuring the younger woman (whom she’d never met before, but Dorothy Ordial’s social skills were at least on a par with her daughter’s) every time Rose let out a groan or a yell.

It was gratifying, Rose thought, to see so many people from the mission. Brother Farley and his wife Kristi were there, the latter already joyously showing a small baby bump of her own; as the late Sister Margaret had said, Farley always worked fast. She was particularly happy to see Abbot Red in the waiting room. She had only been back to the mission a few times since her absolution, and the Abbot had usually been busy; busy, on one of those occasions, getting a highly classified report off to the Pleasure Dome with what he knew about Margaret, on which subject he needed to engage Rose in a very businesslike, if still much appreciated, debriefing. The memory of Margaret, whose remains had finally been found – mostly – a week or more after the explosion in Saus, still caused Rose a twinge, although it was almost submerged beneath the physical twinges emanating from her lower torso.

As far as Rose knew, the last word had not yet been written on that affair. She would be surprised if it ever was. As soon as it was discovered that the tunnel under the ruined temple led to what could only be a safe house with Millenarian trappings, the military actions against the Millenarians ramped up drastically. (Elgin Bindiel and his surviving wife and child would not be caught up in them. They were now living incognito in a small town a long way from Provatiel … biding their time.) Red was as good as his word; he would never say how, but Colonel Nuria never got the call-up. As for Gustaf, the final silenced round that might have enabled a forensics expert (like, say, Brother Miguel, sitting quietly with his own wife Sister Marilyn in the waiting room) to figure things out was never found, and it became – convenient for the Cardinal Inquisitor to decide that he’d simply been a diversion to keep the heretics’ bomb plot from being discovered. Maybe; or had Luminosita placed the man on that roof? Rose doubted it, of course, but the Patriarch did not, or at least not officially.

She caught a short exchange at the back of the waiting room before the next contraction came. A scared-looking Kassia Karvial was asking a question of a well-dressed but otherwise nondescript Tsuirakuan whom Rose didn’t recognize at first. How nice of Cassie to come, she thought, but who is that other guy – oh, my. She was pleased to see the teenaged shapeshifting student, but was amazed to see Captain Kitaura, and more amazed yet that whatever he said to the girl seemed to reassure her. (In fact, she had simply asked “Is she – doing okay?” and the man in the suit simply said “Yes.” A Tsuirakuan observer would have been even more amazed at this exchange than Rose was, but Kristi and Fayna were the only other Tsuirakuans in the room, and both were occupied.) Nobody else seemed to recognize the Tsuirakuan, but somehow the rest of the visitors were giving him a wide berth. They would, since this is obviously a business matter for him, like everything always is – I wonder why? thought Rose, but she did not have time to follow the thought before the next spasm hit.

Next, and quite possibly last. There was something different about this one, and the Lifemage and nurse were quickly in position at the end of the bed. Argus looked anxious for a few seconds, but then he got the idea and his expression changed to excitement, as much so as Rose had ever seen on the visage she loved. The Lifemage was saying something, but she was focused on what Argus was saying. ”She’s crowning! Now PUSH!”

What could she do? She pushed. And suddenly, there was a cheer from the viewing room so loud that she could hear it through the Damping in the birthing room.

She and Argus had had long talks about what their unborn daughter’s name would be. There were simply too many people to be honored with it, yet there was a custom in Tsuiraku that an important name not be repeated exactly. (Rose didn’t quite understand that, but she was part Tsuirakuan now, and the forms had to be observed.) Margaret … Margot … Lillith … Cirella … Dorothy … Drusia … Desiree … Therese … and finally, a euphonious compromise, incorporating elements of many of those names yet duplicating none, had been reached.

And now came its moment, as a small, red bundle was placed on Rose’s breast by the nurse.

“Welcome to the world, Drusilla Marjorie,” a beaming Argus proclaimed, but Rose was too tired to do much but smile and commence the mother-child bonding that she’d longed for for so long.

- FIN –
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