The worst of it was not that he was a child in body, but it was becoming increasingly clear that he was a child in need as well. Many times he would wake up in the middle of the night, and begin to cry out in terror at the darkness about him. When he did his daily devotions, many times he would find his thoughts wandering from the prayers and liturgies to contemplate squishing the bug that just crawled by. And of course, the worst of them all, soiling himself whenever a man touched him or was alone with him.
Father Hough tried not to think about all these things as he neatly folded the covers of his bed back. The first week or so, Lady Kimberly had done such things for him, but he did not want to be treated like a child - at least in mind he did not. She said that he appeared to be ten years old. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make himself to look any older. He certainly wasn't gointg to become younger!
As the last of the quilts was laid over the feather mattress, Hough stared at his small hands. They were going to be that way for however long he lived. Could he even die of old age now? Probably not, but there was no shortage of other maladies that could strike him down.
Sighing, he walked over towards the window, and stared out at the courtyards below. Though many animals walked to and fro, as well as older humans, his eyes did not seem to rest on them, but instead found the gatherings of other children playing. He watched as they chased dogs or cats, tossed hoops and balls, or beat upon each other with wooden swords. It looked like a lot of fun.
A sudden knocking at the door broke his thoughts, and he turned about. "Who is it?" he called out in his boyish contralto.
"It's me, Lady Kimberly," the soft rat's voice returned.
"Come in," he replied, staring down at his boots. They were untied again. Why did he keep forgetting that?
"Good morning, Father Hough," she said as she stepped into the room, immediately finding something to straighten on the bed. She carried a small basket with her. Opening it up, she revealed a pair of sandwiches and some juice. "How are you today?"
"I'm all right." He replied after tying the knot tight. He then climbed up onto the bed next to her. His eyes wandered over to the sandwiches.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, ma'am." Now why did he say that?
Kimberly did not seem to pick up on it as she continued to pull breakfast from her basket. He eagerly took the sandwich from her tan paws when she offered it. She sliced up a small block of cheese, and gave a bit to him as well. He ate in silence after saying a small prayer.
The Lady rat watched him for a bit, nibbling on her own meal all the while. Hough tried not to notice the scrutiny, prefering to ingest his small meal in silence. However, that was not to be the case.
"Father Hough, Charles would like to see you at some point."
He dropped the sandwich into his lap, his body shivering slightly. "I... I don't know."
"I just don't know if I can do it."
"But he's your friend, he cares a great deal about you."
"I know," Hough breathed deeply, trying to regain control of himself. He knew it was irrational, but everytime he though about it all he could see was that foul Loriod grinning. And he could feel other less savory things that Loriod had done to him.
"Can you at least try?" She put a single paw on his arm to comfort him. He nodded after a moment, trying to eat more of his sandwich as if that would block everything else out.
"Well, he's waiting outside, I'll let him know he can come in." Kimberly rose from the bed, and walked over to the door. Hough waited, his heart pounding in his chest.
And only moments later, there was a good friend of his standing before him, his whiskers bright, and his eyes friendly. "Father Hough, it is good to see you," Charles's voice resonated through the priest, and what had once given him pleasure only sparked the fear inside of him again.
"Charles," Hough stuttered. He wrapped his arms about himself, trying not to cry.
Charles sat opposite him on the bed, and Kimberly sat between them, which was a great relief to Hough. "I'm not going to hurt you, Father. I could never do that."
Hough nodded after a moment. "I know you won't, I just can't help it."
"Sure you can. I have faith in you."
Hough suddenly broke out into tears, "I'm trying! I can't stop seeing him!" Kimberly quickly came over to his side and wrapped her arms about him and rocking him back and forth. Charles looked like he wanted to reach out to help, but held back his paw.
"Seeing who?" the rat asked.
"Loriod." It came out despite his weeping and shuddering. He found Kimberly's arms to be very comforting, and soon after saying that was able to calm down enough to stop crying. She gave him a tissue to wipe away the tears. He took it and thanked her.
Charles was silent, obviously thinking about what he'd just heard. "Have you prayed about it?"
"Every morning, noon, and night."
Matthias nodded, and then gave Kimberly a quik look, but a sad one. "Maybe I should go?"
Hough shook his head on an impulse. "No, please stay."
"All right, I'll stay." Charles smiled a little, his whiskers twitching a few times. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No." Hough shook his head firmly, pushing back the child as best he could. The curse of Metamor was worse than he'd imagined it. When he'd traveled here from Ellcaran, he'd never expected to stay this long, or in this fashion. Yet now that he was here, his time as a priest seemed almost like some long-forgotten dream. He would eventually have to take care of that.
"What do you want?" Charles asked.
"I want to be free of all this!" Hough pointed at his flesh and small body. "I want to be me again. I don't want to be a frightened child."
"I'm sory, I can't help you with that, Father."
"I know. Nobody can help me." Hough then climbed free of Kimberly's hold. "But you can help me overcome one thing." He was shaking visibly now.
"Just please stay there." Hough slowly began to walk across the bed, taking one step at a time, fighting the desire to turn back and climb into Kimberly's arms again. If he did that he might as well be an infant.
Charles watched him closely from where he sat. His tail scooted back over the edge of the bed, and his paws remained in his lap. Hough focused only on the face of his friend. The round furry ears, and the large black eyes, and the narrrow snout. He saw each rodential feature, and fixed them in his mind, pushing away the thick jowls and oily hair of that dead noble.
Yet, even as he pushed, that face pushed back. The rat before him became a fat bloated man with an evil grin and desires too loathsome to speak of. Hough stared fixatedly at what he knew to be his friend, as he quelled his fright and held his groin. With each step, he could feel himself on the cusp of pure child-like terror. Yet he continued forward, not letting the image of that foul being dissuade him any longer.
And then before Hough had even realized it, he was standing before the rat. He reached out a trembling hand, and, with a bit of temerity, placed it squarely on the shoulders of his friend. His other hand moved quickly to accompany the first. And then he wrapped them both about the rat's neck, and gave way to a long hug. Charles slowly responded by returning the embrace. Hough held back his tears, his breathing quick, and his body trembling, but in his mind, Loriod was not.
After a few moments, the child broke away from the rat, and sat back down on the quilts. He crossed his legs, and licked his lips a moment before saying anything else. "Thank you, Charles. Thank you very much."
"Are you all right?" Kimberly asked, coming quickly to his side.
Hough nodded, smiling a little. "Yes, I think I am." A sudden warm breeze passed by from the window, and he stared at it. "I'd like to take a walk outside today, if you two have the time."
Charles grinned, slipping off the bed. "Well, you know how I'm always busy it seems, but I think a walk will be good for all of us."
Both Kimberly and Hough slipped from the bed to join the writer. "Yes, it has been too long since I've been outside. I'd like to try."
Kimberly picked up her basket again, and put the food back inside. "We can have this for lunch."
Charles grinned, and then looked over at the child. "Um, Father, your boot laces are untied."
Hough sighed as he reached down to retie them once again.