The Covent of our Lady of the Rose, Fifth Empire. Dolomites of the country of Ital.
The young woman sat staring into the polished metal plate that passed for a mirror a deep frown etched across her face.
The door to her cell opened and Sister Leonora came in, her gentle smile seemed to light the small room and lift the girls spirit.
“Will you be joining us at Compline child?” Her voice was as warm as her smile.
The girl got up and pulled the hood of her habit over her head and tucked her hands into her volumous sleeves.
“I am ready Holy Sister.” She said quietly.
Sister Leonora cock her head over and with a sad smile walked behind her and gently lowered the hood.
“There is no need to hide yourself from God and the Saints child.” The nun had walked around to the front and took the girls chin gently in her fingers and lifted her head. “Do not be ashamed of what your are, be proud of who you are.”
She titivated the girls scarlet hair pushing it away from the small horns on her head and carefully pulled it forward to frame the red face. Worry bordering on fear shone in the girls scarlet eyes.
“Come lets join the others Marta.” The Nun squeezed Marta’s hand and led her out of the cell to join the other orphans. Five women stood there, their faces unhidden for the first time at a service that wasn’t for the Nuns alone.
Each carried the mark of their mixed lineage.
“The village and the monastery will be joining us tonight and Father Quinn will be blessing individuals.” They were told.
They lined up feeling just as nervous as Marta behind Sister Leonora, bringing up the rear was a young novice, Sister Mary Clare.
Slowly they walked toward not the chapel as was normal but to the Minster itself.
They entered through a side door and was led to the main aisle.
“Remember heads up and be proud of who you are.” The nun muttered.
She led them passed the laity, the villagers and farmers, who muttered under their breaths, passed the Monks to where the Holy Sisters were lined up. The nuns smiled at them warmly as if they were trying to pass confidence and love to them.
The girls took their place in the pew opposite the Nuns. Sister Leonora and Sister Mary Clair bowed to them, turned and bowed to the Holy Symbol before taking their place with the other nuns.
The Holy Sisters began to sing the Holy Offices for the night service. Their voices echoed around the churches walls before they were joined by the deep rumbling voices of the monks.
The tall golden skinned girl beside her took Marta’s hand in hers and squeezed it gently. Marta squeezed it back.
She glanced along the pew and saw that each girl held the hand of the next forming a living chain.
Marta looked up at the beautiful Stain glass windows depicting the Saints and there at the centre of the circular Rose Window was the Holy Mother and Child staring calmly down on her.
Down the centre of the Church came the priest and his retinue in their white surpluses. Father Quinn was in the front carrying a large version of the Holy Symbol on the end of a long ebony pole.
As he passed the villagers Marta noticed several making the sign of the Living Ankh over their breasts.
Smoking incense from the swung urns stung at their eyes and made Marta cough.
Drawing the attention of the laity was the last thing she wanted to do.
The Mother Superior Sister Faith walked to the alter flanked by her number two, the Abbess Sister innocent. Uniquely the convent had two leaders, the Mother Superior who cared for the spiritual needs of the Sisters and the Abbess who tended for their more physical, Earthly needs.
The Mother Superior took the Holy Symbol from the priest and slotted it into place at the end of the alter.
“Welcome Holy Father to the Church of the Mother and Child.”
“Thank you Holy Mother and Holy Sister.” As the two women returned to their place he scanned the congregation.
“We have gathered here in this Holy place to remember our duty to God and to ask for forgiveness for our short comings before we retire to our beds to sleep.” He smiled at them all. “God sees all that is in your hearts. This building is not the Church it is solely the building that we use to hold the Church, for the church is each and everyone of you.
The Lord said, ‘Where people collect and speak of me there in I do dwell’.
When you enter in you’re are surrounded by mans adoration and joy.”
He paused to look over the flock a moment to see if they were listening.
“John Tomas.” He fixed the man with a steely glare. “This is not a place where you can have a Holy wash and then go out and do the same sins once again.
Brother Peter the church is not a place where you come to flog yourself for your short comings neither is it a place for you to wail and cry out.
Our Lord can looked into all our hearts and can see the good and the evil within us, but he also knows that we are mere mortals. He can see if we are truly trying to live by his laws and he forgives us our failures. This place is a place of joy and healing so sing out loudly with joy for he is with us.
Now let us confess our sins.”
The priest led the parishioners through the confession litany, the confessions of their sins.
His strong singing voice led them into a hymn of joy and praise.
When the priest looked up from the Box of Songs he was angered to hear a small group muttering, though in his heart he knew why and he also knew that the next thing he was going to do would only fan the flames.
He took a deep breath and steeled himself.
“Come forward those who wish to and receive our Lords blessing.”
The Mother Superior came and stood beside him a chalice of holy water in her hand whilst the Abbess herself went into the body of the church and helped three frail women to the alter to receive the blessing.
Father Quinn gently placed a hand on the first woman’s head.
“May the love and strength of the everlasting one God and his Saints be with you always.”
He dipped his finger into the holy water and drew the symbol of the Holy Ankh on her forehead.
The Abbess lead them away.
And so it was for the next ten minutes as solitary parishioners and young families like Robert the Cartwright’s came forward.
Sister Leonora with Sister Mary Clair in tow crossed over to where the girls stood.
“Head’s up girls.” Sister Leonora whispered before taking Marta’s hand and leading them across to where the good Father waited.
Marta was the first.
Farther Quinn carefully placed a hand upon her head his thumb and little finger curled slightly around the horns.
“Child born out of pain and fear may the love and strength of the everlasting one God and the Saints be with you always.” He dipped his finger into the Holy Water and drew the image of the living Ankh upon her head.
It stung but she did not flinch.
As she began to move away there was an uproar from a group of people that the Father had been annoyed with earlier.
“What is the meaning of this Thomas a Quintus?!” He called angrily.
“You call yourself a man of God and yet you permit these abominations to exist, worse than that you dare to give them Holy Communion!” The man was a massive brute that towered over his family who, it was rumoured, he abused daily though no one could prove it. “They should have had their necks broken at birth.”
A small core of those present shouted their agreement.
“They should be locked up out of good peoples sight, who knows what evil stirs inside their hearts, what demonic power lurks beneath their flesh.”
“Be silent!!” Robert yelled as he climbed to his feet. “You have no right to speak of these children like that. You are a bully Thomas a Quintus, a peddler of hate. I have heard you when you are in your cups in the tavern peddling your vicious bile against those that cannot protect themselves.”
“I will have your guts for gaiters you mewling coward. I seek only to protect the people. I try and protect the villagers from filthy outsiders. If we let in one more will come from the outside and our streets will run red with blood.”
Thomas balled up his fist ready to strike.
“Stop this! This a place of worship not a fighting pit!” The Reverent Mothers voice silenced them. It was like shutting a door to the noise outside, suddenly all was quiet.
Marta turned and faced the congregation. Standing tall she undid the ties of her habit and allowed it to drop onto the floor.
With a feeling of pride she heard the other orphans line up behind her and drop their habits too.
“Look at me, all of you. What do you see?”
The crowd muttered.
“I am what is called by some a Teffling, a Demon Spawn, a Devils Child. Do you honestly think we want to look like this, any of us. But there is nothing I can do about it, I can not change it any more than your boy can change his withered leg Tomas a Quintus.”
Marta was a half breed from the union of a demon and an Elf.
Her skin was a deep red that looked like she had been in the sun to long. Her hair was dark red and laid shinning down her back to her buttocks between the two small bat like wings. Protruding out of the hair at the temple was a pair of small horns.
“You are evil and should be not allowed to live.” Thomas balled up his fist as his temper grew again.
“Then what of me Thomas?” The golden skinned girl walked forward.
Her skin had a strange golden glow and her hair was almost white shot through with yellow highlights. On her back were a pair of small Angels hawk wings. Her eyes unlike Marta’s burning red ones were a warm orange. “I am Astra Bernadotte and am called by some Angelheart and I am a cross breed just as Martha is but where her mother was tempted by a creature of the lower plains, an Incubus, mine was romanced by a Celestial being. Am I to die too in your new world order Master Thomas.”
Thomas bowed his head.
“You have been touched by a celestial being of the upper plains and because of such are Holy.” Tomas said calmly. “You should be revered. But the others all carry the Mark of Cain on their faces.”
“Thomas, none of us six had a choice about coming into being, but we can choose who we are. Judge us not on what we look like but on our acts and who we are.” Astra said earnestly.
One of the elderly Nuns called out a hooray and led the smattering of applause.
The young woman turned round and walked up to the priest.
“I do believe you were going to bless me.”
“Yes I do believe I was.” There was a bang as Thomas and his cronies left the church but Father Quinn ignored it and carried on.
When the blessing’s were done the Good Father turned to his flock.
“Do not let your prejudice cloud your mind and heart for that way leads only to more sorrow. It becomes a canker that feeds off itself as it grows.
Go to your rest with the blessing of our Lord God and His saints.”
He turned and lifted out the Holy Symbol and with his retinue led the way out, to the sound of the Nuns and Monks singing in perfect harmony.
The girls were lead out of the church through the side entrance back into the convent.
Once inside Sister Leonora brought them to a stop.
“I am so proud of you girls.” She said her eyes wet with unshed tears of pride. “Out in the world you will come across many bigoted men and women and you will need to know how to deal with them.”
“I’m so proud that you all came down to pledge your solidarity? It shows what can be done even if you have been from poor circumstances.” As soon as she said it Sister Mary Clair wished sincerely she hadn’t.
“You mean like being demon spawn!” Marta snapped.
“Forgive my ill choice of words but understand my hearts endeavour.” The little Nun replied.
“There is no need to apologise it is I who should apologise to you for we all know of the support of the Sister Hood and of the love that comes from your hearts.”
The two Sister did not lead them back to their tiny cells but to the refectory where some bread and cheeses were laid out along with some watered wine.
“You have earned this repast with the courage you have shown.” Sister Leonora smiled warmly at the six of them.
Besides Marta and Astra Bernadotte there were four other orphans all of them half breeds.
Julienne was a short stocky girl with a Dwarfs heavy frame. Her skin was grey and her eyes a deep black.
Deep under the earth lived the Dwarf like Drugar. Though there were similarities enough to suggest a common ancestry there were enough differences to make them a race apart. Squat, ugly and very bad tempered the Drugar were noted for their inhospitable nature and mercurial rage. Every so often there were skirmishes between the two nations resulting in Dwarfs being taken as slaves far underground. Sometimes a Dwarf raid will free them and sometimes a Dwarf maiden was found to be pregnant with a Drugar child and on very rare occasions a child is born.
The child was taken to the mountain tops and left their to die, but on this occasion a group of pilgrims on the way over the high passes to the hospitable fields below found her and took her with them.
Sitting at a table was the mighty Gloria. She stood just under seven foot tall and had the build of a person that was used to hard graft. Her pink skin, snub nose and small tusks showed that somewhere in her lineage was a porcine Orc. Slow and considered in her speech she could easily be considered thick but that was far from the truth, she was astute and quick witted.
Lillian was another quick witted one but unfortunately she was also quick with her hands often purloining objects out of peoples pockets just for the fun of it. It was if she saw it as a challenge often returning the items she had purloined back into another pocket.
She only stood four feet in her stocking feet. She was the product of a happy union of a Deep Gnome and a Halfling. Both parents had died during the winter storms years ago when the tree outside the farmers cottage collapsed crashing through the master bedroom crushing the sleeping pair. Her crib a few feet away was left intact and she was unharmed.
Like the Dwarves the Gnome gem crafters had a deep version of themselves, a deep gnome or Svelovim . They were brutish as apposed to fine, cruel as apposed to kind. Lillian unlike her forebears from deep beneath the earth was of a sunny disposition, more like her mothers kin the Halfling.
She had spent the longest time in the convent of the six of them. Her skin was dead looking with colourful splashes of pink on her cheeks and lips. Her red hair poured down her back in waves like the sea upon the shore. It was so long that she could actually sit on it. Her eyes were a shinning deep green.
The last, who was helping herself to some wine, was an exotic breed. Her skin was such a deep blue it was almost black, her eyes a deep violet. She was the offspring of the union between a male Drow and a Moon Elf, she was Twilight. The Drow were the remnants of the Elves that lived in deep forests and deep beneath the ground, that dared to attack others for the shear pleasure of killing. They felt superior to ever one. They formed a Matriarchy created out of the main families, each Matron controlled the lesser families below them with inhuman cruelty. They were viscous and ran their underground world like a dominant at a BDSM party except far worse.
Their skins had darkened and their cruelty grew until the Elf, Dwarf and Humans could tolerate their raids for gem stones and slaves no longer. Banding together they swept into the Drow cities and destroyed them, putting every Drow, regardless of age or sex, to the sword until it seemed none were left. It was genocide plain and simple, and something the three nations didn’t speak off in their shame. Occasionally a solitary Drow may emerge, like Twilight who was found in a travelling freak show.
Marta was by the doorway out of the refectory happily devouring a doorstep cheese sandwich when she overheard the Reverent Mother talking.
“I am sure that the time has come for them to rejoin the world.” She said.
“You have seen what they face, are you sure?” Father Quinn asked his voice full of concern.
“We cannot hide them away forever Father. They deserve to live their lives to the full.” She said. “These months ahead we will prepare them for life outside and make them realise they will always have us.”
“I will endeavour to place them with people we can trust. I will support them as much as I humanly can.” Father Quinn said earnestly.
A single tear ran down her cheek a little way before evaporating in the heat of her body. At that moment she understood what true pure love was, a love that made no demands that was solely for itself.
Their world was going to change but whether for the better remained to be seen.