The muffled sound of the dust storm increased for several seconds, and Morris looked toward the doors that separated the foyer from receiving hall. Pilgrims came at all times, but to come on a day like this… they must either be very devout or very reckless.
Three people entered. They had clearly taken a moment to beat the dust from their riding clothes, but it still sifted from their hats. Morris wondered at the perseverance. Even with doubled bandannas, breathing would have been a chore in such weather.
“Welcome, travelers,” Morris said. He was not dressed appropriately, expecting no visitors, but he held himself with the dignity of his post. “What do you seek?”
“Water,” said one of them, without hesitation. A woman, if the tone of voice was a guide.
“Of course.” Morris gestured to the long sink on the wall beside the door, behind them. The three looked, then back at Morris. They did not take a step. If anything, one of them recoiled slightly.
“You have running water,” asked another, his voice deep, and probably pleasant when not afflicted by dust.
“Fed from a cistern on the hill above us,” Morris said. This was a place of enough wonders, without pretending to any others. “It’s still quite full; winter was hard but left us that gift. Please, drink and wash. You may hang your coats and hats over there.”
There was some residue of hesitation, but they did as they were told, and before they were done, they were reveling in it. Morris smiled. The entire point of this place was to provide solace, and to see these pilgrims enjoying the simple pleasure of water not drawn from a well or carried from a stream was part of his reward.
When they were done, they slowly approached Morris. He stood by the great door to the sanctum, smiling gently at them to balance the forbidding essence of the great iron-bound portal. “Please tell me your names.”
The woman spoke. “I’m Agatha Fletcher, this is Gerrow Smith, and this is Jonah Gerrowchild.” Morris nodded to each of them in turn.
Welcome, all of you,” he said. “Your cattle are safely in the shelter?”
Gerrow said, “We came on foot.”
Morris’s eyebrows went up. “You left them back in Fernton?” Fernton, the nearest town, was more than a day’s walk away.
“We came on foot,” Gerrow repeated, with an emphasis that made Morris’s heart quiver.
“So devout,” he said, trying to keep his voice even. He looked them up and down. No sign of weapons, not even the ubiquitous knives that everyone outside carried, used for both dining and brawls.
“More than you know, sir,” Agatha said. “If the rumours are true, August means to stay with you.”
Eyebrows up again, Morris looked at the youth. It had been a long time since any young person joined them, and here was one too young to have even taken a trade-name.
Just as interesting was the evident dynamic he saw written on the faces of the three. Agatha was clearly devout, a sparkle in her eye that the candle over the sanctum door hardly accounted for; she burned with the hope which Morris and the rest of the order hoped to nourish. August was embarrassed, although Morris could not tell if it was at having their ambition revealed for them or simply because embarrassment was the constant companion of that age. Gerrow was a worry. Whatever else showed on his face, it was plain he was not resigned to the idea of leaving his offspring in a cloister, however worthy the cloister might be.
He would bear watching.
“Well, then,” he said, “let us show you the wonders we hold safe.”
He rapped at the portal. There were several different sequences, the meanings as diverse as where is my relief? to I am lost, release flaming oil against invaders. The bolts were withdrawn once he completed pilgrims here, normal caution and he stood to one side.
The three stepped forward, watched now by Jerome and Daria. Good, competent warders, Morris thought, easily able to take three foot-sore pilgrims in hand. And then, he saw with a delight which nearly made him laugh that the pilgrims were genuine.
All three dropped to their knees, eyes wide, mouths agape with awe. They had been told that this place was stuffed with wonders, no doubt had heard descriptions of the strange relics of the lost past, but now they were presented with one, and the fact of it, right there in front of them, simple as it was, had dashed them to the floor.
The incandescent bulbs in the sanctum, glowing with steady white light, were just a hint of what lay in the vaults below.
“Inktober 2019 – Legend” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.