Flesh and Spirit

Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carol Berg
wine from Ardran grapes, though war had never touched the precious vineyards. The vines had now frozen three winters in a row, and folks said they would never recover. Perhaps the bowl of the sky had slipped askew as Sinduri astrologers claimed.
    One thing was certain. With grain fields burnt by soldiers or afflicted with smut from the cold damp, with plants unable to thrive in the changing weather, and herds dead or sickly, famine would surely strike again before the new year. And I’d been perilously close to starving three winters running—which unhappy counterpoint with the delectable soup reminded me that I could likely tolerate a few monkish restrictions.
    I’d certainly no wealth or earthbound power to give up. Gambling held no allure but for the coin it could provide. And so long a time had passed since I’d experienced the pleasures of excessive drink or fornication that they were easy to bargain away when tucked in a warm bed with a full stomach. Magic was another matter.
    I lopped off that consideration faster than a farm wife could wring a chicken’s neck. Did I allow thoughts of my worst troubles to take hold, my life would shrink to a hard black knot exactly the shape of a nivat seed.
    Once Cadeus had gone, Brother Badger held his hands under his black scapular and peered into my rapidly emptying bowl. “When you’ve sopped up the remainder of your supper—not long it would appear—it will be time to take a walk. A man with such an appetite as yours must, of necessity, be getting stronger.”
    “But it’s only been—”
    “—four days since I took out the fiendish bit of iron. I know. But you’ve wallowed in your blankets long enough. Damaged sinews need using or they’ll knot or wither. You’ll thank me.”
    The infirmarian snatched away my empty bowl and dropped a short brown tunic on my lap. He watched as I eased it over my head and bandaged shoulder and relinquished my lovely blankets. The air felt dreadfully cold on my bare legs. Indeed, as he eased me to my feet, my excessive height left the skimpy tunic excessively short, exposing half my rump and privy parts to Brother Anselm’s open window. “You are the Adversary’s lackey, Robierre,” I mumbled, shivering.
    Brother Robierre was a mere half head shorter than I, and built with the sturdy bulk of a smith. Even so he called on Brother Anselm to help propel me up and down the long infirmary. I clutched at their shoulders, scarcely touched my right foot to the ground, and moaned and gasped, only muting my groans when young Jullian looked ready to pound the infirmarian for his cruelty.
    “To feel the wound is only to be expected,” said the good brother, inspecting my bandages when he at last allowed me to sit again. “See? No fresh blood or drainage.” Adding insult to insult, he then insisted I drain Jullian’s flask of water from the abbey’s spring, swearing that the holy font had been resanctified since Brother Horach’s gruesome death.
    “You’re a proper villain, Brother,” I said, wincing as I rolled over and let them prop my leg up again. “I’m not thanking you as yet. This activity has surely stirred up the poisons in my blood. And this drink fit only for dogs and horses, tainted by ill-let blood, will compound them. I could die from it.”
    “You’ll not die today, Valen.” Chuckling, Brother Badger tucked me in more gently than my mother had ever done. This was indeed a fine and friendly place.

Chapter 4
    “I need to be gone now,” said Jullian, scrambling to his feet not long after the bells for the Hour of Compline—night prayers—fell silent. “I’ve duties.”
    The door banged behind him. He had been regaling me with descriptions of the various monks, while the infirmarian and his assistant hied off to pray again. Though guileless as a newborn calf, the boy had a wit about him. I felt as if I knew the denizens of Gillarine already.
    Left alone, I wormed my way down into the bedclothes, more tired

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