She followed him without a word, and fortunately for her, the courtyard was still quiet and devoid of any other human presence. He hadn't looked at her once, his mind having been occupied with Father Gensia's sense of urgency for him to go. He would take her to him as quickly as he could, leave them and return to the chapel where he could kneel in peace, praying for heavenly guidance and comfort. And hopefully, whatever Princess Shalassah had to discuss with him would not reverse the improved condition he was currently in. This thought caused him to take pause in the stairwell leading up to the visiting room. Shalassah stopped abruptly behind him, her dark eyes blazing with impatience.
"I must make note that he is in a much healthier state this morning than is usual," he started, but was interrupted by the princess.
"All the better for what I wish to ask of him."
Kal shook his head. "I request that you not ask too much of him. Unnecessary stress and agitation may harm his current state, and I beg of you, do not be sharp with him."
Shalassah frowned. "My business is with him. Your concern is noted, but I will not compromise myself or my situation, either."
"Please," Kal lowered his head. "Do not excite him." And he resumed his hurried steps upward.
Father Gensia had sat himself upright in bed now, had rearranged the pillow behind him to lean against the stone wall, and his hands were folded atop the blankets in his lap. He bowed his head forward as Shalassah ascended into the room. Kal looked at the princess quickly and watched her lower her head as well, and it suddenly occurred to him that he had hardly treated her as the royalty that she was. Indeed, expected veneration had escaped his anxious mind. But what could be done now? He stepped aside as Shalassah began to step past him. Her guard stood beside the stairwell in silence.
"My princess," Father Gensia said, slowly but confidently. "It is an honor and privilege to be in your presence. I hope my dear and faithful brother has kept you in comfort and safety."
She stopped beside the foot of his bed, not even glancing back. "He is quick enough, thank you. My apologies for not have given you earlier notice of my arrival, but I will not be here long."
"Do not fret, princess, we are here to serve you and provide for you."
"Well," Shalassah replied, "my business here is quick, but extremely important. Perhaps your dear brother should allow us some privacy."
Father Gensia smiled kindly, his eyes grey but sparkling. "Kallafor is trustworthy, a contemplative and honest man. If it would not gravely offend your grace, I personally wish for him to be present."
Kal swallowed. He could not see the expression of her face, but he was sure that she was not happy at the suggestion. He hoped for her to object, to overhear some short discourse over his attendance, with the conclusion of his leaving the room as quickly as possible. He could not bear standing here, his hands clutching each other behind his back, sweaty and uneasy. The room was warm, but his face and hands felt icy and thin, and suppressing the restless shivers through his heart was not an easy task.
After a short moment, Shalassah replied. "My matter is private, Father, and I would expect nothing short of respect for that. However," she then turned around and looked first at her guard, who gazed at her without emotion or answer, then at Kal.
He could not understand what her look meant. Her expression was still stern and cold, the black pearls flat and unreadable. The look was only a second long, and she turned her head quickly. But Kal now felt a cold sweat trickling down his temples. Was it a warning? Was it a promise of revenge? Or had she just been assessing him by piercing his nerves with needles of ice? Those dark eyes unsettled him, they were unlike any he had ever seen in any man or woman.
"If it pleases you, Father, then he may stay."
"Your understanding is appreciated, princess," Father Gensia bowed his head again. "What has caused you to come to such a place as this at so early a time? I pray it would not involve the affairs of your father or brother."
Shalassah stood rigid, her hands clenched at her sides. "Father," she began, "as you well know, talks of war and strife have been surfacing, and I trust you know those responsible for this senseless turmoil. I tell you honestly and with strong convictions, I oppose this. I oppose all of it. Circumstances and political structures must be addressed, we could not survive without a shift in order, but there is another way. Would someone give me a voice, I would proclaim it myself. But my empire does not think this way, so I am forced to go about this by some other means. You have kept silent of these matters, and I wish to know your thought on this."
Father Gensia closed his eyes, and Kal noticed his sighing, invisible to Shalassah and her guard. A sigh emitted from the heart, a sigh emitted when a particularly hard matter had been presented to him. Father Gensia's wisdom was unquestionable, his insight eerie and peculiarly accurate. But Kal wondered what could affect him so, what dealings that were occurring that caused him such grief and melancholy. Kal had kept to himself these fifteen years; taking care of Father Gensia kept him away from the refectories, and his laboratory was more important to him than the quiet gossip in the cells. He had no interest in what lay outside these walls. His needs were met, his acquaintances were few, and he was content without knowing of the frivolities and pain outside Mono Luthor's thick stone walls. It was a minute before Father Gensia responded, his eyes still closed.
"Your concern is political, princess, and your convictions are admirable. War is a terrible waste, and a civil war is an even more horrible affair that should be avoided at all costs. There are many roads to take, yet the more figures involved in the planning, the more roads there are to choose from. Your father wishes to avoid this road to a civil war, yet he cannot comprehend it any other way. He searches for the way with the smallest number of souls lost, yet such a choice would damage himself and the empire he loves. The Holy Vicar, a man of great intelligence and shrewdness, stands opposite your father, and may Horafah be with him, he is only wanting to do what is right and just. The situation, I am afraid, is much deeper than a simple desire to save the empire."
"The Holy Vicar Louvaix is his strongest opponent among many, and I am concerned on where you stand in this matter."
He shook his head. "I have made a pledge to Horafah first, and," with his right index finger, drew a line down across his heart, then across underneath the first motion, a universal symbol of Horafah's blessing, "the Holy Vicar seeks truth and faith. He has wished for my presence numerous times, yet I have refused to partake in his scheme. We have exchanged letters for countless years, and I am grieved to say that we still do not agree upon many matters. But my opinion is unimportant upon this matter."
"Father," Shalassah said quickly, "do you oppose this call for war?" Her directness was swift, Kal noted, a true sign of her impatience, or perhaps desperation, he wasn't sure.
"I do not wish for any unnecessary loss of life."
She raised her head slightly, eyes half-closed in apparent relief. "Father, your opinion is held extremely high among our people. And you are one of the ten holy Vicariates. I know you are a humble man, a pure man of Horafah and worthy of the complete adoration of the people. You have not voiced your thoughts on this, though I know hundreds, maybe thousands, have asked for it. But I, as the daughter of the Emperor, I request that you publicly announce your position on this. It will persuade many to reconsider their craving for bloodshed. I can tell you how it can be avoided. I do not wish to use you like this, Father, truly, I do not, but I know no other way." With this, she bowed her head.
"Princess, do not be ashamed," Father Gensia said gently, the smile heard through his words.
With courage, she lifted her head and looked at him. "If it is not too much to ask of you, I wish you to return with me to Morra, to speak with the Council of Ministers. I would send you back to Mono Luthor as soon as you desire."
Kal held back a gasp at this invitation. To uproot him from his dwelling, especially in his condition, how could the princess be so calloused! He looked at Father Gensia, though he expected no visual response, and he assumed correct. The Father had averted his eyes and gazed into the smoldering cinders inside the fireplace. The princess was anxious, the tension in her held breath stifled the room, and the guests awaited the old man's response in utter silence. Finally, the Father settled his gaze back onto Shalassah.
"My princess, I will not hide the truth from you. I am not allowed to leave this bed, not because of my ailing health, but by orders of Basil Louvaix, the Holy Vicar. We speak often together by means of a foot messenger and the Holy Seal, and we have discussed many matters, including this one. He does not have my support, and should I step foot outside Mono Luthor, I would immediately be pronounced a heretic and traitor to the empire. These are evil and twisted times, my brave princess, but I have already disclosed my thoughts with the Holy Vicar, and he remains unmoved."
Both Kal and Shalassah stood mute. The Holy Vicar would label him a heretic, guilty of treason? Kal couldn't believe his ears. The Father rarely stepped foot outside his dwelling, and to threaten such horrific claims to the Father, the most beloved Father in all the empire, it was blasphemous! Kal could not contain himself. "For how long, Father, for how long!" He cried out, Shalassah and her guard turning to look at him with wonder.
The expression of the Father's face was soft, almost serene. "My son, this sentence has been placed on me since the beginning of the Inquisitions. Have no fear; Holy Vicar Louvaix is not prepared to place me on trial, especially as he has no other assertions than the cordial letters between us. He is shrewd and will use this to his advantage, but his timing has not yet come upon us. Do not distress, my dear son."
"Kallafor," Father Gensia shook his head slowly. "I am prepared to face Louvaix, if the time comes. It may never come, but," he turned to the princess. "Know that I would not satiate his will, I would answer every question of the Inquisition with honesty, the true faith in every response."
"You are calling him a heretic," Shalassah breathed.
His face was expressionless. "He is as old as I, princess, we grew up together, and we have studied the faith together. He chose another route many years ago, but we have remained close friends. It would not be an easy thing for him to accuse me to the public, though many would not know our life-long bonds of friendship. And I would not subject him to such a position, but I do not question his seriousness in the matter. Basil is a man of his word, and he would accept nothing less nor accept compromise from himself or any other. I respect him. I do not respect his convictions and interpretations of the Word of Horafah, but nonetheless, he is more knowledgeable and experienced than I, in ways I will never know. Horafah has blessed him so far, and yet, Louvaix seems to have become more cunning and perceptive than ever before. I would not tempt my fate, nor would I wish to cause him a hard decision."
The princess remained silent.
Kal searched Father Gensia's eyes which were full of a great sadness. He knew the Father had friends in other places, in high places, but never did he imagine that the Holy Vicar was a childhood friend of his. And that after almost a century, a man would turn on his own friend like that. For what? What was this bloodshed and war the princess spoke of? He had heard of the Inquisition, he did not agree with it, but discussions of that matter could not be helped, especially in a monastery. Talks of war, however, it was not a business of theirs. The Father knew much, much more than Kal imagined, but yet expected. And Shalassah seemed as dumbfounded as himself, her hands clasped in front of her and her head slightly bowed. Finally, the princess responded.
"I regret to have been a bother. Please excuse my imposing upon you, and may I request that you do not mention to anyone of my presence here. To no one."
Father Gensia began to raise a rickety right hand. "Princess, you will leave so soon?"
"Father," she raised her head high. "I only thought that your words in the Counsil would have a great effect upon the people. However, I was not aware of your bonds, both physically and legally, and I would not wish to put you in harm's way. May Horafah bless you and keep you in the safety of your Mono Luthor." And she turned away.
"You can be assured that I would tell no one of your visit here. Though this is in no way related to a means of an exchange, but I would like to make a request of you."
"Anything you wish, Father." She still gripped her hands together, and Kal could see the whiteness of her knuckles even from this distance. Perhaps the previous night's restlessness were an omen to the awful events that were occurring today. He was wide awake, and though he had yet to eat anything since the evening meal, there were no thoughts of hunger. Only concern, surprise, anxious distress. He must learn of these current events. Here, in the mountains, they were tucked away from civilization, seeing only drips and drabs of humanity that sought them. What was going on out there? But it was a frightening thought, a foreboding sense of danger and fear crept into his chest, tendrils squeezing and burning from his abdomens to his breast. The mere thought of discovering what evil lurked beyond those mountains was terrifying. And here stood a woman, a princess that could not help but to be involved. She had concern for someone, perhaps her people, perhaps her family, Kal could not think straight any more. He wanted to rent his habit and scream out against all the wrongs in the world.
"If it would not be too cumbersome for you, I request that you allow Kallafor to return with you to Morra. He will be taking leave of his duties here and temporarily staying at the Chapel of Morra."
Kal felt nothing inside. The crushing pains in his chest, gone. He felt like a hollow body inside a grey cloak.
Shalassah didn't even shift her gaze. "As you desire, Father. I will be waiting in the room below." She bowed, then turned and retraced her steps to the stairwell, pausing by her guard and exchanging glances with him, then descended the stairs with him behind her. Not once did she look at Kal as he peripherally watched her walk by. When her footsteps had disappeared, he strode quickly to the Father's bedside.
"So soon, Father? What of my laboratory? Who will know how to care for them? I possess nothing, yet it does not feel right to leave on such a whim," he kneeled down beside the bed.
Father Gensia placed his hand near Kal. "Son, you know as I do that this is not a whim. Brother Fayquinn would willingly take your place in your absence, as short or long as it may be. Do not be concerned, though your presence is dear to all of us here, you are needed elsewhere."
"At the Church of Morra? I don't know of this," Kal said hurriedly.
He shook his head. "I do not know where, but that is where you are going. Horafah will guide you, you must listen to him carefully. You will know where to go, and where you are needed."
Horafah does not speak to me, Kal thought bitterly. He never spoke of it to his brothers, and only once with the Father many years ago in his youth. Father Gensia had told him that he needed to listen harder, to soften his mental state of mind and allow him to enter. He had not asked him since of this matter, but still, Horafah never spoke to him. And Kal was ashamed of this. What brother could not hear the voice of Horafah?
"But I must warn you, my dear son," Father Gensia continued. "You must be on guard the moment you step outside of what you are familiar with. You will always have your faith to protect and guide you, but you must also use your instincts as a human. As you have learned before, you must question everyone and every thing, especially if your mind finds itself hesitant. As for the princess, she is strong, and her heart is warm. Do not be afraid of her, she is an honorable woman. Now go, before her impatience bests her."
"Father," Kal trailed off. He had known this day would come, but not so soon. Not like this. Not with some strange woman, a princess and her guard. Not in this brisk morning. He had failed to adhere to Father's words, to prepare his mind for the trip, whenever it may be. Six months had passed, and he had not prepared. He swallowed, unsure of what to say, how he could express the pain and love in his heart.
Father Gensia placed his cool hand atop Kal's head of short curly brown hair. "Son, we will see each other again." His smile was affectionate and affable, gentle as the eyes of a doe.
"I will write to you as soon as I arrive." Kal stood up abruptly. He bowed low, his forehead almost touching the bedspread in front of his. Father Gensia held out his hand, and Kal took it and kissed it quickly.
He rushed to the stairs, placed his hand on the jamb and paused. But a moment, and he promptly removed it and descended to the room below.