Vinsah found comfort in his sleep. While during the day he found himself many times trying to help Father Hough counsel those that had lost loved ones in the attack two months prior, at night she would be there for him to take away the hardships. At first he had wished only for her to disappear completely, and leave him be. But that had been before he had grown to know Metamor and those that lived there.
The assault itself had changed everything. He had revealed himself to thwart an attack by evil spirits upon the Chapel, and in so doing, had made his presence to his fellow Followers, and hence all of Metamor, known. Fairly soon afterwards he had a small room set just a short ways off the Chapel itself. Healer Coe was happy to have him no longer living in one of his rooms for the sick, though Vinsah promised to repay him when he was able for the service. Coe had refused of course, as Vinsah was a priest, but even so, the Bishop wanted to do something for his benefactor.
As this was Father Hough’s parish, he did his best not to interfere with the young priest. Hough had several times offered to let him lead them in the services, but each time Vinsah politely declined. He was not a voluntary resident of this remarkable land, and his place was still back at Yesulam. Of course, Vinsah did not like to dwell on that city too much. There would come a time when he would need to venture there and take his case before the Council of Bishops. By now a new Bishop of Abaef was likely installed. His place in the Church would have to be determined by them.
But until the snows left, it was not safe to travel. In fact, as Vinsah was now a raccoon morph, it was not safe to travel outside Metamor Valley at all. He had no idea how he was going to be able to travel all the way to Yesulam appearing as he did. It was his nightly prayer that he would find a way, but so far, none had come to him, and no opportunities had made themselves known.
But such concerns were far from the raccoon Bishop while he slept. Cradled in her arms, the soft velvety touch of her fingers running down through the fur between his ears, he purred like a kitten. The words from her mouth, spoken so strangely, and yet so lucidly, comforted him into a tranquil lull. He nestled against her legs, tail curled around his foot paws, even as she leaned over him, long black hair falling over his shoulders. He could feel the mask over his face as the touch of a cool mountain lake. And the bit of quartz he held warmed his paws like a soft candle flame.
Upon her lips, and in his ears was the name she had given him, a name that he had not asked for, but found impossible to avoid in this dream world. And strangely enough, knowing as he did its origin, it no longer bothered him to be called that by her. For when she said, “Elvmere,” it was a statement of love, as a mother to a son. Nay, as a mother to her baby. And in those moments, that was what he felt as, helpless against all that was, but protected from all as well.
Dreams of course do not last, and so, stirring in his bed, Vinsah pushed back the thick quilts, and slowly pulled himself into a seated position. The warmth and glow of his dreams still filled him. He could half imagine the touch of her hand behind his head. And then, the chill of the air trickled along behind and in his ears, and over his nose. Blinking, he dimly saw his Spartan quarters, the small fireplace empty of all but ashes, and the small garment table to one side, with the execution yew decorating the other wall.
Stretching, Vinsah slipped from underneath the covers, and replaced them neatly upon the bed. He even took a moment to straighten out his pillow, and pick a few loose bits of dark fur from its surface. With a small bit of flint, he lit the candle at his bedside, and proceeded to light the lamps about his room, bringing with it a pleasant warmth.
Vinsah then set the candle down and took in his paws his rosary beads which were laying upon the side table. As he lifted them, he heard his claws ticking at each copper bead. Kneeling before the yew, he counted the beads, his prayer silent.
Vinsah had several times begun equating the woman who came to him in his dreams with the mother of Yahshua. Though he repeatedly disabused himself of the notion, it nevertheless returned to him consistently, for the love and simple purity of the strange woman in his dreams was exactly as he had always envisioned the mother of Eli’s child to be. It was no different then when he said his rosary that morning, several times, he knew that he was beseeching her in his prayer as well.
The last bead counted, Vinsah began to offer an apology for his transgression, as he had done before, but another thought struck him. It was entirely lawful to offer prayers to not only Yahshua and his mother, but to all the saints, provided that he worshipped only Eli and his Son. How could it be any different for the woman in his dreams? Vinsah gritted his teeth then, his tail flitting back and forth across his footpads. It was not worship to do as he had done, but merely to honour her.
Vinsah rose then, setting the rosary beads back upon the side table. Crossing over to his small dresser he used for his clothes, he pulled out an undershirt, and a warm woolen tunic of a priestly design. Lastly he drew out a pair of trousers and quickly dressed himself. Feeling warmer already, he draped over his neck the small yew tree that he’d been given as an acolyte when he’d first entered the Ecclesia. With a smile, he traced his claws across the surface, feeling the grain of the carved wood. It had been with him many years, and he hoped it would still be with him for many more.
Crossing to the small mirror he had, he made sure that his muzzle fur was straight. Vinsah combed his paw through the fur where it was crooked until he felt satisfied by his appearance. His tail could have used a bit of brushing, but he would attend to that in short order. First, he wished to see what sort of day it would be.
It was a weekday, so there would be little for him to do at the Chapel. Except on Fridays, he left Father Hough alone to take confessionals. Otherwise, his only regular tasks were to help the boy in writing his homilies, though he usually just listened to them in advance. Several times he had given thought to finding some sort of work, but he had never done anything outside of the Ecclesia, and so had no trade he could offer to any.
Vinsah walked to his window and pressed open the shutters. A blast of cold flew past his ears, but he was used to that now. The snow lined walks of the town outside Metamor were mostly clear, lit only by the light of the street lamps, and that of the stars and moon above. It was nearly dawn, though in the valley it would still be another hour before it was light.
The sky was clear though, and the air was free of all but a simple breeze. The day promised to be mild though still chilly, but at least he would be able to walk about in it. Being raised in a desert clime had prepared him for many types of cold, but the cold of a winter breeze across snow and ice was not one of them.
As he stared down, arms resting upon the sill, icicles hanging just beneath it, he could see that several Keepers were already up and about their business. The reconstruction of the town was moving smoothly, most of the damage to the homes was repaired, though much of the stonework still needed to be refashioned. Given his new youthful form he had often taken it upon himself to help in the repairs. At first he’d tired easily, but now he could for many hours before he needed any rest. Vinsah found it strange to be thankful to have been cursed, but he enjoyed his renewed vigour in a way he could not resist.
With a nod, Vinsah decided to see if he could be of help to any others that day. Taking up the thick robe he left draped over the chair before the small desk he used, he stepped out his door and into the halls of Metamor. Father Hough’s door was just a few short steps towards the Chapel doors. Leaning in to the door and pressing one ear against the wood, Vinsah could hear that the boy priest was still asleep.
Vinsah slipped the robe on, the end of it pressing his tail back against his legs. He did not want to disturb the Father, so he crept back into his room, the claws on his toes muffled by the carpeting in the Keep. Sitting down at his desk, he pulled out a small piece of parchment and a quill pen. He took the lantern over his desk down and set it upon the back board to provide more light. His paws felt over the ink bottle, and could tell that some of the ink had frozen. Vinsah gave it several firm shakes before he opened it and dipped the end of the quill pen inside.
He then set the pen to the paper and wrote:
Father Francis Hough
I am going into town once again to see if I might be of assistance to Keepers rebuilding their homes and their shops. I shall return ere the fall of night, or if the weather should turn foul. It is my hope that we might be able to share more of your cider this eve.
Vinsah smiled as he wrote the last sentence, knowing how much it would please the boy. The cider was very good after all, and it was the perfect libation for warming his body after a long tiresome day at work. He knew that by the time the sun had set, Hough would have several glasses made and heated over his fire.
Holding the parchment up, he gently blew across the ink so that it would dry. He then was about to fold it up, but eyes used to noting every detail from the years he spent copying old homilies in the archives of Yesulam spotted the one discrepancy. He had signed the note “Elvmere.”
Unable to believe what was before him, Vinsah simply stared at it, half expecting the letters to reform themselves into “Vinsah” at a moment’s notice. But they remained as they were, proclaiming that Sathmoran name that came to him in his dreams from his lady. None in the waking world had ever called him Elvmere except for his fellow raccoon Rickkter. But even then that had only been because Rickkter had known him by no other name.
Feeling strangely nervous, Vinsah set the piece of parchment aside, and copied it over, though making sure to sign it “Vinsah” instead this time. Once he was sure he’d left no signs of his dream world in the letter, he dried the ink and folded it. He set the lamp back on its hook, and put away his writing tools.
Kneeling down, he slipped the leather shoes over his foot paws. He had to keep his toe claws short so that he could wear them, but it was not a terrible burden. He could feel them pressing against the leather even as he tied the laces, and knew that he’d have to trim them again soon.
Vinsah then went about his room extinguishing all of the lamps but one. He used that to relight his candle first. Taking the note upon which he signed “Elvmere” he brought it and the candle to his fireplace. He lit the edge of the parchment with that name upon it first, and then set it down upon the ashes in the hearth. His green eyes stayed fixed upon that paper until it was completely consumed by the flame.
Once he was satisfied, he blew the candle out, and the last lamp. His eyes could see well enough in the dark that he had no trouble navigating through the room even then. After pulling the shutters closed once more, he picked up his note and closed the door behind him. Feeling buoyant once more, Vinsah slipped the note under Father Hough’s door, and then began to walk down the hall away from the Chapel. Upon his muzzle he began to whistle a merry tune, though he was not sure where he had first heard it.
It was still cold throughout Metamor, and so Vinsah had made his way first down to the heated baths. He did not take one himself, but merely enjoyed the warmth from the steam rising from the water. A few Keepers were washing themselves up, but they paid little heed to the priestly raccoon that was sitting against one wall, tail curled up into his lap to keep it from getting damp.
After an hour or two enjoying the warmth, and talking with a few of the other Keepers who happened to come in and sit for a bit, Vinsah began his trek out into the town itself. The street lamps had been extinguished by then, as the sun was gazing down at them from over the mountains to the East. The streets had been swept clean of snow, mounds piled against the walls of rebuilt buildings. A few Keepers would load what they could into carts to haul it to the Killing Fields, or to cisterns in the Keep to make more fresh drinking water.
Vinsah could hear the sound of a hammer up ahead, and the delicious scent of bread. Letting his nose and ears lead him, he quickly moved through the chill morning air until he found himself before a small house, tendrils of smoke rising form the chimney at the back. A vaguely familiar tabby was perched upon the roof hammering wooden shingles into place. The priest chuckled as he watched the tabby’s tail twitch back and forth behind him as he worked. It appeared that all the walls of the building were rebuilt, and only the last of the roof remained to be completed.
“Hello up there,” Vinsah called as he came to stand a short distance away.
The tabby looked over his shoulder, whiskers twitching curiously. “Hello there,” the cat returned. “May I help you?” One paw gripped a wooden bar that spanned the top of the roof.
“I was wondering if I might help you,” Vinsah offered with a warm smile. “That is dangerous work you are doing.”
Smiling, the tabby flexed his claws, demonstrating to the Bishop that they could use some trimming. “Not for me!”
“Nevertheless,” Vinsah said, admiring the youth’s self-confidence, “I would like to be of some help to you.”
The tabby looked at him for a moment, and then his smile became grateful instead of simply amused. “Okay, climb on up. You can hold the shingles in place for me.”
Vinsah did not see an immediate way of reaching the roof, so assumed that the tabby just jumped up. It had been a long time since he had thought himself limber enough to attempt such a feat, but he did it anyhow. His claws caught on the shingles, and with a mighty heave, he lifted himself up onto the roof, his legs curling beneath him as he rested upon the firm shingles.
“My name is Brennar by the way,” the tabby held out his free paw in greeting.
Vinsah took it and smiled. “I’m Vinsah. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Brennar.” Of course, Vinsah now recalled that he’d met this tabby before, when he’d taken his stroll about the keep as the visitor from Jetta. He did not remember much about the feline or his master though.
Brennar smiled as well, revealing several long fangs. “And it is a pleasure to meet you, Vinsah.” His eyes then trailed down over the raccoon’s garments, and they grew wider when they saw the priestly images upon the tunic. “Not Bishop Vinsah, the Patriarch’s aide?”
“The same,” he replied, his voice tightening at the mention of his former master. Yet, he knew that his lady would console him and assure him that Akabaieth had found a greater peace than he could have ever known.
Brennar leaned over the side of the shingles and poked his head through the open part of the roof. “Master Gregor, Bishop Vinsah is here! He was the Patriarch’s aide!”
The raccoon priest heard the a sudden bustling in the room’s beneath him. A moment later, he saw a large rodent step out of the door and peer up at them both on the roof. His eyes were wide with a strange sort of admiration. He gave a short bow and then smiled up to the priest. “It is an honour to have you here, Bishop. But why are you on my roof?” Gregor asked, his expression puzzled.
“He’s offered to help finish it,” Brennar put in happily.
Gregor smiled then. “Thank you, Bishop. That will mean a great deal to me. It must have been the greatest of joys to serve alongside of a man such as the Patriarch.”
Vinsah felt his ears blush a bit, and his own chest beat with the agony of his loss. “I never knew a better man than he, Master Gregor. The world is diminished without him.”
“That it is! And you are following in his footsteps, Bishop?”
“I am trying.”
“Good! Let me bring out some of my bread for you.”
Vinsah held out one paw. “That is not necessary.”
Gregor stomped one foot then. “Nonsense! You are helping fix my roof. It’s only proper that I should repay you.” And the capybara then disappeared back inside the Bakery.
Brennar waved to him with one paw. “You look a lot younger than I thought you’d be, Bishop. If you don’t mind me saying so that is.”
“I am. The Keep made me this young again somehow. I do not understand it any better than that.” Vinsah climbed a bit closer to the tabby on the roof. The shingles were just thin pieces of wood about half a foot thick. Long crossbeams lined the roof, so they had plenty of purchase to nail them down. Some of the nails were actual metal, but most were wooden pegs.
“Here, I’ve got better balance than you,” Brennar stepped over onto the beams, and held out a piece of wood. “Just lay this down right here.” Vinsah held the shingle where the tabby had pointed. Taking a peg, the cat placed it over the top of the shingle, and began to hammer down. With each stroke, Vinsah felt his arms shake and his teeth rattle.
After they fitted the second shingle in place, Gregor returned out the door with a small basket with steam rising from it. “Here is some bread for you two. I just took it out of the oven, so be careful.”
Brennar leaned down and took the basket in his paws and passed it up to the Bishop. Vinsah examined it for a moment, before resting the basket on the rooftop where it wouldn’t fall. The scent from inside was moist and made his stomach churn in anticipation. “It smells wonderful, Master Gregor.”
“It ought to. Cooked in my own oven again. ‘Tis nice to have an oven to cook in once more. Those filthy Lutins destroyed my last one,” Gregor complained in grumbling tones.
Vinsah reached into the basket and drew out a small pastry. A sugary cream had been spread over the top of the roll. He bit a small chunk off and chewed it quickly. It was very hot, and his tongue did not like that! But the taste was so smooth he barely cared about the heat. “These are delicious, Master Gregor! You are a very good Baker indeed!”
Gregor gave a short bow again at that, smiling ever so slightly. “Thank you, Bishop. It is good to have one such as yourself approve of my trade. I only wish that I could have had the Patriarch within my store to try some.”
“Did you not get a chance to see him?”
The capybara nodded. “When he spoke before all the Keepers. But that was all.”
“So you are not Followers?” Vinsah guessed. He had not seen either of these two in the Chapel for services either. And he vaguely recalled that he’d asked this before.
Gregor shook his head. “I was born a Lothanasi and I shall die one as well.”
The tabby chuckled. “Master Gregor leads prayers services at the Temple every now and again.”
“As often as I can. ‘Tis a privilege that the Lothanansa Raven hin’Elric allows me to do. I am grateful for it.”
Vinsah felt strangely ashamed, but asked, “So why show so much honour to myself, leader in the Ecclesia?”
Gregor blinked and stared up at him hard. “Were you not there at the Patriarch’s speech, Bishop? If we are to ever know peace, we must honour each other.”
The raccoon nodded and smiled. “And he was right. Sometimes I feel I am still learning that lesson.”
“I am as well,” Gregor sighed then and crossed his arms. “You are a good man, Bishop Vinsah. The Patriarch chose well in making you his aide. We Lothanasi need men like you and the Patriarch to keep us focussed on what is important. I wager the Patildor do to.”
“Yes, we do,” Vinsah said, smiling amicably to the rodent.
Gregor returned it, though it was still rather repressed. Vinsah gathered that the Baker was not a man accustomed to expressing approval of others. “Well, I must return to my oven, and I will leave you to the roof. Thank you once ore for offering to help finish it.”
“It will be my pleasure, Master Gregor.”
The capybara gave him a firm acknowledgement and then slipped back inside the shop below. They could hear the closing of another door inside, and then it was quiet once more. Brennar smiled to the raccoon, and then held out another shingle for him to place. Vinsah took another bite of the pastry, found that it was cool enough to eat without burning his tongue, and then set the rest aside for later. He had work to do on this roof.