Father Quinn led the Reverent Mother away from the others as they set up their sall in the market.
“I understand that the shop serves a good hot cup of Java.” She said with a smile.
Java shops had sprung up all round the market square as the desire for the bean drink increased.
“They do a fine Tisane too.” Father Quinn informed her.
Sister Faith screwed up her face and gave a shiver.
“I take it you are not a fan of the drink.”
That was an understatement. She found the hot fruit tea’s a most revolting concoction.
She laughed lightly.
Their progress through the stalls and shoppers was a slow affair as they hailed the two of them, and stopped for a chat. Eventually they reached the shop and went inside.
It was a well upholstered place with small tables and booths.
Mr’s Tierney and her three daughters bustled around the customers as they took orders and cleared tables.
Mr’s Tierney herself came over to their booth to take their order.
“What can I get you Reverent Father, Holy Sister?” She asked with a smile.
“My usual Tisane for me an a strong hot cup of Java for the Reverent Mother. Oh can we have a couple of oat cakes and some honey please.”
“Of course. I’ll get Lisle to bring it over as soon as their done.”
“Thank you Michelle I’m sure it will be as perfect as always.” Father Quinn replied making the woman blush.
“I do believe she is in love with you John. You could do worse than have her as your wife.” Sister Faith said with a light laugh.
“I would ask her if it wasn’t for her daughters.” He sighed.
“They do not approve of the match?”
“Oh they are fine about it but do I want to take on three teenagers as well?”
“How old are they?”
“Lisle is the oldest and she’s sixteen, then there is Martha fifteen and Gretel who’s a precocious thirteen. Her husband died two years back in an accident during the great storm. A tree fell on him but to be honest she was better off without him. From all accounts he was a violent drunk.”
The drinks dually arrived. Sister Fate sipped at the bitter brew before letting out a sigh of delight.
For the next fifteen minutes or so they fell into comfortable small talk before Sister Faith decided to ask the question that was on the tip of her tongue since they entered the shop.
“Now Reverent Father I think it is due time for you to tell me what this is all about? You haven’t just brought me here, as nice as it is, just to talk about Mary Forges foot.”
“You know me to well Sister.”
“I should do after all these years.”
The Holy Sister had appeared at the gates of the old empty convent fifteen years ago with the Saints body and a small retinue of novice nuns and set up the shrine to Our Lady of the Rose.
Nuns who had for years had no place to call their own made their way to the newly established convent and were welcomed with open arms.
From what Father Quinn had managed to find out their original convent in Umba down in the Ital peninsula was attacked by demons during the run up to the End of Days. They had corrupted the convent so badly and had left only two of the original Nuns alive that they had to flatten it. Reduce it to dust.
The locals welcomed the Nuns with a feeling of great joy. In the convents garden roses grew everywhere filling the air with their delicate scent.
“I had hoped we would be joined by two others but it looks like…” He petered out when he saw movement at the door. “Well speak their name and they will appear.”
Two men had entered the Java Shop and made a bee line for Father Quinn.
Sister Fate recognised them both to varying degrees.
The first a fifty year old man dressed in ceremonial plate armour was the captain of the city guard.
Sister Fate recognised the other man faintly though from where she couldn’t say.
“Gentlemen this the Reverent Mother Sister Fate the Mother Superior of the Shrine Of Our Lady Of The Rose up at St Bernadotto.
The knight took of his gauntlet and took Sister Fates hand in his and bent his head to kiss it.
“I am George Remarque Marshal of the City Guard and this is Senor Gorgio Luminari, leader of the Guilds.”
Gorgio bent his head in a slow nod.
“Now what can I do for such good men?” She asked.
“Since the defeat of The Queen of Chaos by the ‘Hero’s of The End Of Days’ we have been experiencing outbreaks of what I can only call Chaos.” Father Quinn explained.
“Carry on I’m listening.” She said. “Though what this has got to do with me I don’t know.”
The Marshal took up the story.
“My men have been fighting small but deadly outbreaks of the Dead walking and low level Demons.”
“These creatures have tried to stop the flow of supplies to the town. We have in reserve four eight days of basic food and water if we carefully ration it.” Gorgio told her. “We have deliberately kept this information to ourselves so not to panic everybody.”
“You and the Abbess, Sister Innocent, shared this adventure and are classed by some as being hero’s in your own right.”
“The stories I am sure are exaggerations.” Sister Fate replied cautiously.
“We need your help in contacting those that remain alive for the task of entering the catacombs and caves and capturing whoever is behind it.”
“I don’t think they would come at my call even if I knew where they were. It would take a month or more for a fast rider to find them and bring them back.”
The Marshal gave a tired defeated sigh and settled back to sip his cup of Char.
“Is their nothing that could be done?” Gorgio asked.
“Will you not help us?” Father Quinn asked.
“I did not say that. Meet me up at the Convert tomorrow an hour after the midday meal and we will discuss what can be done. I suggest you bring some maps Marshal.”
She gave them a dazzling smile. “While you walk me up to the convent, after all it will be dark by then and not the best time for a woman to be walking on her own, you can tell me what has been occurring, where and when.
But first another cup of Java wouldn’t go amiss.”
The little chapel with its depiction of a rose in the round stain glass window looked empty as Marta creped in and crossed to her usual seat in the stalls.
She crossed herself with the sign of the living Ankh and looked up and whispered her prayer. Once she had done so she broke down in body wracking sobs.
A shadow on the floor by the little altar got painfully to its feet and lit a candle.
“My child whatever is so wrong that you have to come into the chapel to weep.” Sister Boniface crossed and sat beside her. She took Marta’s young hands in her old veined ones. “What is ever ailing you child will lose its hold on you if you share it. The Lady of the Rose has never promised a clear road ahead with all the pitfalls and wrong turnings clearly marked. All she promises is that whatever happens, no matter how many wrong turnings we take she still loves us. We can not go wrong if we show that love deep inside to another in need, not that I need such prompting.”
Marta looked up at the nun and saw clearly in the flickering candle light the concern, the worry, etched into her face.
“Sister Boniface.” She said through her subsiding sobs. “Am I evil?”
“No child you are not evil, a little way would at times but haven’t we all been so at your age, so no you are not evil.” She gently wiped away the tears. “Now what has happen down in the village that makes you doubt yourself?”
“I confronted Thomas-a-Quintus and he struck me.” She pointed at her slightly puffy lip. “I go so angry I created this.”
A ball of blue ice floated above her out stretched hand.
“Strange? It was a ball of fire last time.”
“He is a man who would try the patience of a saint.” Sister Boniface said angrily. “His tongue has been bitten by a viper such is the poison that spills from his mouth. Do not concern yourself any further with his words they are as valid as snow when the rain comes and even less permanent.”
She had Marta in her arms comforting her.
“But the ball?”
“We have know for some time of your possible special talents child, so they do not frighten us because the person who is exhibiting it, has a heart that is good and true.”
“I am frightened that the evil in my blood will rise up and engulf me pulling me down with it.” She explained.
“Child we all have the potential to do evil but we do not have to listen to that dissenting voice. Now to bed with you before your tired mind leads you astray.”
“I am glad you were here Sister but may I ask why are you here?” Marta asked.
“These tired old bones pain me much and disturb my sleep as if a thousand warriors wage war in them.” She held up her crooked arthritic hands.
“I wish I could take the pain away for you. I promise to take what you have told me to heart. Goodnight Sister.”
The old Nun smiled at her.
“Goodnight my child.”
After a few moments she got up and wandered out of the chapel.
Marta padded down the corridor on silent feet.
“Where do you think you are going?” A shadow said before lengthening in the form of Lillian.
“To the infirmary.”
“Because there was something wrong with the body and I can not go to sleep until I have found out what.” Marta replied.
“I’ll get the others.”
“We stick together that’s why.” She vanished back into the darkness.
A few moments later hear Juliennes roar of disapproval at been waken up so early echoed around the corridor making Marta flinch.
Marta smiled wryly.
It seemed not everyone wished to join this venture, this examination of a dead body in the middle of the night.
By the time Marta had reached the infirmary doors the rest of the group had caught up with her.
Sitting by candle light sat a Nun ready to cater for the patients needs. They slipped in one by one and stood together wondering what to do. The room where the body was being kept was a short distance down a passage that ran in the opposite direction to the infirmary’s wards.
The sneaked into the room and lit a couple of candles to help them see.
“Lillian check his clothes for any information as to who he is, Julienne keep watch, Gloria help me with the body please. Twilight I know you can detect where magical energies have been used. Could you check in here please.”
Marta issued her orders with out realising what she was doing. Standing silently in the darkest shadows was somebody watching them with a puzzled look on its face.
The body was covered with a white sheet.
“Forgive us disturbing your sleep my Lord but we must learn how you were laid so low and the reason why.” Marta said reverently.
The face was a bloated mess and hard to look at and even harder to recognise any human features in it.
“The face and body has been dealt a mass of violent blows from both fists and feet. See here is a imprint of a shoe sole in the blood.” Gloria said slowly.
“Yes I see. You are quite right my good friend.” Marta could see it too. “I am reluctant to ask this but could you lift the body as I want to examine his back.”
Gloria squatted and prepared to slip her arms under the body and lift it of the slab.
“No, sorry my friend Gloria I was poor in describing my needs. I just need you to lift up his left shoulder so I can look at his back.”
Gloria grunted a soft grunt and with a careful grip lifted the shoulder up.
“Can I have more light here please.” In a few moments the light from the girls candles lit the body enough for Marta to see what had caught her eye earlier.
“Look! He’s been stabbed with a thin bladed knife but the knife had snapped inside his body as he struggled to live. You can see the remains of the knife still shinning in the wound.” She looked up at Gloria and signalled to her to lower the body before squeezing her muscular arm in thanks.
“Marta!” Lillian whispered from her place at the table where she was examining the clothes. “I think we have found something.”
Marta crossed to join them at the desk where the victims clothes and pouches were laid.
“What have you got my little terror?” Gloria mocked good heartedly.
Lillian’s deft little fingers had found an inconsistency with the stitching inside the coat.
“It’s some sort of pocket but it’s been expertly hidden. I just got lucky that one of the stitches is raised slightly.” She explained.
“Can you open it with causing any damage.” Marta asked.
“Yes, if I had a narrow bladed knife with me.” She lent forward and with a quick flurry of fingers she appeared to pull out a knife from Marta’s right ear. “Oh look what we have here? I don’t believe it, it’s just the sort of knife I need.”
“Shush. Do you want to wake everybody up!” Astra cautioned.
“Oops, sorry.” Lillian skilfully turned the coat inside out and pointed at the stitching before deftly unpicking it. Once she had unpicked it she used her knife to tease out three letters and lay them on the table.
All three were sealed with red wax which had the impression of a signet ring in it. Marta turned them over to reveal three different addresses. Father Quinn, Marshal Sir George Remarque and the Mother Superior Sister Faith.
“Put them back and reseal them in the jacket, can you do that Lillian?”
“Yes I think so but it will not be as tight. Just give me a minute will you.”
When Lillian had finished you would be hard pushed to find them.
“What now?” She asked.
“We go to bed. Tomorrow we will ask to see the body and rediscover what we have found.”
Quietly they slid out of the room and made their way back to their cells and bed.
The watcher moved out of the shadows and looked at the body on the slab thoughtfully a moment before she left too. The Abbess had seen enough to worry her but also much to make her proud of her charges.