Flesh and Spirit

Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg Read Free Book Online

Book: Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carol Berg
sixteen, newly vowed, and had lived here since he was five—an aspirant like Gerard and me. Gerard hasn’t slept properly since, and he’ll not go into the shrine except in company.” The boy sat up proudly and straightened the water flask he’d brought me, as if to demonstrate he’d conquered such fears himself.
    I nodded in sympathy, but could not shake my disturbance. Common disputes among those who lived in close quarters rarely caused such savagery. And a boy of sixteen…Ugly.
    To make sure murder was no disease festering in these halls—like mold or pox that clings to old stone—I asked the boy to tell me more of the abbey and its works, and he was soon chattering cheerfully about the scriptorium and library, sheep and barley, and thirty-three holy monks and twenty lay brothers who were all that were left to occupy an abbey built for five times that number.
    Before very long Brother Robierre blustered through the infirmary door with a mournful monk named Brother Cadeus, who needed a decoction of rose bark to bathe his filmy eyes. Cadeus, as it happened, was the abbey porter, who sat at the gatehouse in the daylight hours, dispensing alms and regulating entry to the inner and outer courts of the abbey. While Cadeus shared news brought by a starving mason in search of work—of a Harrower riot that left half the city of Montesard in ashes and of a new outbreak of murrain in a sheepfold near Avenus—piebald Brother Anselm arrived with a vat of mutton broth. They propped me up on pillows so I could feed myself.
    “This world’s in a proper hellish season,” I said when Cadeus finished his news. I regaled them with tales I’d heard the previous winter—of Ardrans frozen in their beds, of ice rivers consuming Evanori villages in a day, of Moriangi chopping frozen fish from the rivers and eating them raw as the wood was too cold to burn. “…and then in spring I dragged myself half starved down to the Cumbran vale, hoping to hire on for planting, only to wonder at the evil-smelling cloud hung down in the vale. Turns out the crofters had found their seed stock rotted in the bins, and their lord had burned every one of their women as Magrog’s whores…begging your forgiveness, good brothers, for the unseemly language.”
    While Jullian drank in every word, eyes as wide as if my reports were hero tales of Grossartius the Revenant, Brother Robierre repeatedly made the sign of Iero’s sunburst on forehead and breast as if the Adversary himself sat on my shoulder. Brother Cadeus nodded as if he had expected nothing else. “The roads are fraught with sorrow. Iero punishes humankind’s sinful ways.”
    “Of course, sorrowful roads can lead to interesting places,” I said, swallowing another savory bite. “When the late blizzard hit Cumbra, a shepherd took me in. The snow buried his hut until only a spelled candle he’d got from a witch gave us light. We ate naught but milk and cheese for seven days and taught his favorite goat to walk on her hind legs and play ball games with us. And he taught me twelve new stanzas of ‘Caedmon’s Lay’…”
    My tales were not even the worst I’d seen or heard. For eight or ten years now, self-named prophets had roved the length and breadth of Navronne crying out that our spate of cold stormy summers and savage winters foreshadowed the end of the world. Magistrates flogged the doomsayers, which succeeded only in making more folk who spent their days in a frenzy trying to placate the gods. I’d seen a man walking the length of the kingdom naked. I’d seen a cadre of women throwing burnt sheep in the sea. Villeins dangled so many charms and amulets from their wives and children, the whole countryside jingled like a tinker’s wagon, and painted their lintels or their foreheads with mule droppings to stave off ill luck.
    A man could say what he would of such activities—and I had scoffed at the general foolishness as much as any—but two years had gone since I’d tasted

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