At the far end of the kingdom, among forests and deep ravines, near a high mountain, there was a small town. That town was founded a long time ago and a major part of citizens already forgot the names of those, who were ruling that town before.
The town spread out at the very foot of the huge mountain and was framed by the forest from the opposite side. The only one road crossed the city, running from the forest to the mountain and around it, then vanished in gorgeous valleys. People knew towns in both directions: to the one, which laid across the forest, they travelled only by special occasions, the road was dangerous and nobody knew what they would meet there, in the forest; to the other people from time to time went to study different metiers, but the last time it was this many a day and the road was almost forgotten. Thus and so, everybody travelled by companies, or if it was a trade carriage, administration of the town sent a couple of guardians for protection.
The local mine gave an incredible income to the town. In the mountain were found huge deposits of moonstone, or better say skystone. That mountain was a skystone itself, which at once had fallen from the skyward. It had come deep into the ground; forests had grown up and the monstrous crater had vanished - an ancient wound of land had been healed. Later here was founded a town by some fugitive criminals. Since those times the town had been called Fortal. Citizens had found out that the mountain was unusual and started to mine and sell skystone to the nearest towns. It was rare stone and that was why the whereabouts of the town was hidden in a secret.
Travellers seldom came to the gates of that town and life in Fortal ran as it torrented in same usual small towns: farmers cultivated crops on fields, lying between mountain and forest, and for their luck every summer it was enough of the harvest that the entire town wouldn’t die from hunger and starving.
Thus, all people in Fortal lived happily and in abundance. Moreover, there were few people who lived better than others, who ruled the town, had mines under the control from the very beginning and had a blessing to call themselves a “notable persons”. They lived in the centre of the city where was the main square, which was called in honour of hero, who as legends told established the City Hall in the Fortal - The Big Brother Sam. The monument in his honour took place on the very same main square. It was colossal and rose almost ten men in height. The monument was a golden man with a hand rised and clenched in a fist, his brutal face was turned toward the square and his muscular body was ready to move. He was totally naked and beautiful, every part of his body was a true representation of how gods should look like. He was a true defender of Fortal.
Even though the town didn’t have a lot of visitors however it counted, at least, seven taverns and two inns. At evenings, especially on Sundays (after citizens spend the entire day in the local church, they all went to the most popular tavern, those who couldn’t get their spot there went to the next one, others in the third one and so on and so force) the entire town gathered at the tavern by the name of “Under the wing of Aunt Greta”. The most popular tavern differed from others not only by its delicious food, even if the best chicken wings were at “The Standing Horse”, or the rarest and most delicious beer at “Mother of Dragons”, where you could find hot shots with flames too, but men took their wives just to show them how they had to cook at homes; not only because everybody could quench a thirst, choosing the type of his favourite beer as it seemed “Under the wing of Aunt Greta” had all types of beer in its cellars, but because of the unusual charm and attractive strength and energy of that place. Honestly speaking, the tavern was the first one in the town, maybe at times of The Big Brother Sam, and got its monopoly. Also, there was a legend, especially when several generations saw that by their own eyes. It was known that the tavern got its magical charm because Aunt Greta never died.
The curious moment it was, gossips were flying around Aunt Greta. Majors came here just to catch a gaze from her, the luckiest even exchanged words with her; the major part of time Aunt Greta gave orders to servants and cookers, running among tables and the entire tavern. When she ran near the table, the lovely conversation fell into the silence and all eyes followed blue skirts and brown leather shoes on small hills. When she pointed to some servant, men looked at her beautiful gentle arms, even though she worked hard, but her arms were still as she was a princess and everyday used an olive oil to wash them. And her fingers, which were so light and men were slobbering, dying of thirst of kissing that fingers...and arms. Nobody could dare to look at her lush breast, which moved up and down when she was breathing fast in busy times. Her face, her pretty face, was a goddess’ face, a straight small nose, lush lips and gorgeous eyes, totally green, her hair, as it seemed for people, had a different colours, some people saw her with a dark-red hair at tavern while she was working, but sometimes they noticed when she came out and made her trip to the market on the main square, her hair shone as it was a real sun, which came closer for bringing light to her face.
But that wasn’t all, her mother had a name - Aunt Greta, and her grandmother had had a name - Aunt Greta, and her grand-grandmother had the same name. People said that the founder of that tavern was Aunt Greta, and what an inexplicable moment - Aunt Greta always gave birth to a girl and named her as Aunt Greta! And all the women looked like two drops of water. What to say if men fell in love with Aunt Greta as she was a siren or real goddess, but nobody cared, and when Aunt Greta got married, her husband was the happiest man in Fortal. After Aunt Greta gave birth to one more girl, she got sick and after several years died. Her husband for any reason died as well in a mysterious way after five years, which were enough to bring up little Aunt Greta, who became already a quite grown young lady at that time. Nevertheless, everybody loved the tavern “Under the wing of Aunt Greta” and laughed at legends and gossips.
Mr. Slake was a habitue, and it was not only Sundays when everybody came here, but every day Mr. Slake was sitting at his favourite place, at the table near the bar, which stood at the far wall, opposite to the door. He owned two bakeries in the town, his business ran well and he had nothing to do but spent his time dreaming of Aunt Greta. That was why Mr. Slake almost lived here, he went home just when Aunt Greta kicked him out, and he came back at once he woke up; usually, it happened when the day was in full swing. That day wasn’t an exception.
As usually, Mr. Slake left his hat and coat at the front, hang everything on a big deer’s horns - a pride of today’s Aunt Greta, they had been given to her almost two years ago by a nameless man, so she had kept them and used them as simple hangers. Then he conquered his spot from the same rascal as he was being and hoisted his ass on a wooden chair, put his arms on a table, in one arm a pint, the other clenched a whole dry salted salmon. He knocked over a drink into his mouth, but feverish drink dropped on his lush horseshoe moustache. They were black, but now they turned to white a little bit, more near his nose because the beer that he was drinking was spilled a little.
Mr. Slake bit a salmon. He swallowed that little rigid piece of fish, which had a full responsibility and impudence to call herself a salmon. It was too salty, so he drunk again, and again beer was on his moustache. But as it happened before he didn’t care about spilled beer, at least, when it turned to a fourth or a fifth round. Today was the same day as usual, and Mr. Slake liked it. He met his old friends, such as Fat Joe (nobody knew his last name), he even shared with couple words with Aunt Greta, envy looks were thrown to his side that time. When old Freddy, or Frederick as Mr. Slake loved to call him, joined them, another part of joy began.
“Next time, I won’t sell you even an ounce of beer!” Aunt Greta yelled when Mr. Slake landed on a wet pavement. Tavern woman shut the door, and dogs echoed her with mournful barks. The evening was done.
He laid for a couple minutes, his mind was still there: in the world of joy and laugh, big breasted girls and old friends, who completely understood you, knowing all your secrets and desires. He wished that it never ended, but he wasn’t a lord of time, unfortunately. He wished he could stay here all night, but the spirit of alcohol was leaving him, leaving him as the door was slammed, so he felt how it was getting colder, how stones underneath of him stung him with their cold and sharp stings.
He stood up, but next few steps were the hardest steps in his life - Earth was circling! He could swear about it, he was sure, he was flying together with the planet in the deep dark space matter.
He fell. He moaned something inarticulate, but he said using all his strength, “Please, help me get up!” He said it intelligibly and aloud, but the only one who answered him in that night in the sleeping town were dogs, who were howling as they heard native sounds. Mr. Slake cursed, it wasn’t in his plans. He laid for a little bit more, waiting for the mercy of the Earth. Maybe, she would understand him, somehow read his mind and stopped circling for one moment, so he could stand up and reach the door of his house.
A miracle didn’t happen. He stood up and fell at once. He cursed again, someone opened a window and threw something (it sounded like rotten fruits), screamed that it was a night already and people wanted their peace. Mr. Slake screamed back that he saw them in a deep hell. That night was the same and there was no difference among nights, everything went according to the plan; Mr. Slake came as early as possible to the tavern (except Thursdays when his pocket sang serenades, and only wind was there. On Thursdays Mr. Slake went to one of his bakeries and took all revenue and with a calm soul walked toward the tavern with a spring in his step), then he drunk a little that to feel a taste of heaven’s drink, then he threw words with waiters and waited for some of his numerous friends, then it came to the very simple plan - drink as much as you could till the closing. That was a plan - durable and unchanged as ground and skyward itself. It was day by day...but not on this night. This night changed everything for poor drunkard Mr. Slake.
For the last time, he prayed to the highest gods and made one more attempt to stand up. He decided for himself at that time if he wasn’t able to do it he quit and would lay down motionless until the very next day. He pushed the ground from himself with all strength, which his drunken body could deliver to him. For his great luck, he didn’t fall at once but stood on his feet and a veil fell from his eyes, he saw clearly now as if he was totally sober and no drops were in his mouth tonight. He did the first step and again didn’t fall. He was surprised, he raised his foot over the stone pavement and without any difficulty put it on. He smirked - what a wonderful day and night! He did one more step, and than the other, he walked! He was sober by the unknown reason. When he did around a dozen steps and reached the end of the pavement, he froze.
Next what he saw could not exist in all intents and purposes. Just in front of him, at the end of the street, there was a big square with a chapel with a high pire and golden cross on the top of it; there, in tongues of flames, which reached the same very golden cross, stood a man. He stood behind huge and high tribune, he wore a simple monk cassock with a hood. Near him, at his bottoms, was lying a dog of monstrous shape. Not the dog - the wolfhound, thought Mr. Slake, somewhere in the back of his mind. The Monk was a young man with beautiful features and tonsure on his head. He was reading something and his eyes followed each letter incessantly.
Mr. Slake wondered - did he see it in reality or it was a part of a hallucination? He rubbed his eyes, but the Monk was still there. He was standing in flames and reading; the wolfhound was lying lazily at his feet.
Mr. Slake did one more step and at the same blink of eyelids the Monk rose his eyes from the book and stared at Mr. Slake. Wolfhound woke up from the deep dream, his eyes were full of animal energy, yellow with nearby reflected flames. The Monk shouted something in an unknown language for Mr. Slake. But when Mr. Slake heard that language he felt how all the joy that he had left him forever. As a snake was inside his stomach, there was a move, all his guts were coiling and sought to get outside. A terrible fear came from subconsciousness, from the same very dark or what was him before Mr. Slake the baby came to that cursed Earth. He felt it and his body trembled. He saw like in slow motion how monstrous wolfhound stood up, shook off and went toward poor trembling Mr. Slake.
The drunken didn’t know what to do but when the wolfhound speeded up and the Monk began to scream louder, Mr. Slake forgot everything - the fear pushed him. He ran as fast as he could, not looking back. He ran, feeling these yellow eyes with flames, till his threshold. He didn’t remember how he opened the house door. He huddled under the bed, like a little boy, trembling and crying for mom (Mr. Slake was praying for all gods that he knew) that she would come and save him, turned on all lights and took his arm and showed him that there was no monsters in a closet. But he saw that Monk, which was the real embodiment of the evilest things that he had ever seen in his life! Mr. Slake was trying to persuade himself that it had been all his imagination, who knew what he could have drunk today, what kind of poison he had poured into his body. With all these thoughts he didn’t notice how fell asleep.
Fortal lived by its usual life. In the morning everybody woke up and went to work. Women as usually went to the main square that to lay out their wares on counters - there was everything that could wish a human: fish and meat, vegetables and plaited straw products; everyone wanted to show that her product was the best one and as true sellers, they screamed for the whole square.
Aunt Greta already opened the tavern and she expected to see as usually Mr. Slake at her doors, but he wasn’t here waiting for her, so she surprised, but simply shrugged and left the door open that to let fresh air in. Maybe, he’s still sleeping, so drunk he was yesterday, she thought. Others taverns opened too, with a new view at present day and desire that the luck would be on their side that evening. So everything was as usual.
Governor Bish-O-Popaluk started his day the same as he had started every day before: he kissed his wife and two sons, came to the table, which was already full served and ate soft-boiled egg first, using the special silver spoon and the golden family eggcup, which was the relic and the sign of their royal blood. Then he ate two toasts with butter and drunk a cup of tea with a drop of a goat milk. After breakfast he kissed again his wife and two sons and left the house, coming toward the City Hall, where today should happen the very important meeting, where all notable persons of Fortal would be discussing the menu for the next month and also, new trousers and cuffs for the upcoming holidays.
In the grand chapel near the main square and monument of the Big Brother, the main pious god’s servants woke up with first sounds of roosters singing. The short bishop Rames Idris came to the cell to another bishop Kir Thando, who still laid on his bed with a straw sheet on wooden legs. Kir was quite tall for that tiny bed and his legs protruded over the bed edge. Rames pushed his brother apart and reminded him about their high mission on that sin land and what kind of example they had to show to lost souls which at any moment should come to their chapel. Kir stood up reluctantly but with a full humility followed his pious brother. They came to the main hall, there were already around twenty people. They exchanged glances and started to read prayers.
Guards woke up even earlier than anybody else in Fortal. They had two shifts, one started at twelve at the midnight and finished at twelve at noon, the other started at twelve at noon and finished at twelve at midnight accordingly. Those who were released with calm soul came to the guard room that to sleep and to feed their stomachs as much as they could until the next shift would start. But also a guard had one day off during the week, so there were at least five guards at one gate and six guards at the opposite gates near the Mountain, despite guards in the town, which were called militia.
Two guards still were staying near gates, which looked at the forest. The gravel road ran from the gates toward that forest and vanished ahead in the shade of pinewoods. One guard almost lay on his pike with a bored look, he almost fell asleep. He sighed and his long black moustaches waved from side to side. The other one just glanced at him and kept looking at the road and the green forest.
“I’m so tired, an’ bored, can’t wait for the shift to end,” he looked at the other guard who stood motionless with a straight back and a serious look. He didn’t say any word, he even didn’t look at the side of his partner. The talked man tried to bring to the conversation him one more time.
“I see it’s not difference fer yeh stand here all day! Stayin’ as two stumps we are. The last stranger came to here a year ago, an’ the next carvan’ll be in a month!” The guard again looked at his partner, the other just chuckled in response and smoothed his goatee. The first guard got excited yet and to get talking his brother by sword became his main task for this moment; the dream mood left him once and for all.
“How it’ll be nice to get paid for nothin’! Just ‘cause yer being here, or imagine you’re gettin’ paid fer comin’ at taverns or brothels! What a wonderful life it’d be!” And no longer able to wait he turned directly to him. “Hey, Lotte, where do yeh spend yer money?”
“I will buy new shoes and dress for my daughter,” Lotte answered at last. But his face still stayed expressionless.
“An’ I go to Idelle at once,” the first guard said with a happy smile.
“Or to Apolonia?” asked Lotte with a smirk, smoothed his goatee again.
“Not so funny! Idelle’s my favorite! Even if she’s an expensive girl,” answered the guard with a bit of frustration.
“So you will spend all the money again for the night! And I am not going to lend any rezan to you, Taranis,” answered Lotte. He looked back to the forest, trying to hide the disgusting on his face. He didn’t understand Taranis, who spent all his money on whores and wines.
“Ah, here’s godly Lotte! I dunno remember the las’ time I asked yeh fer money,” Taranis knew exactly how much he owed and to whom, but he denied even for himself that he owed money to anybody. “But why yeh need them? Where do yeh waste them? Do yeh give to yer wive, don’t yeh?” Taranis smirked.
“What if so? I am saving them,” answered Lotte with a deep sigh, “Me and my wife are saving money, we want to buy a big house for the family,” and after one more sigh he added, “for the big family.”
“Hah, what a plan!” Taranis looked attentively at his brother, and then he lost all his interest to the conversation, he leaned again to his pike and said quietly. “We live only once! Don’t we? An’ yer talking abou’ house and family, maybe let’s go together to Fatty Ladies today, huh? What do yeh say?”
“Sorry, Taranis, but I pass. I have a day off to-morrow, and I need to finish my shift well for premium, and to-morrow all day I want to spend with my family.”
“Yer so boring! I need a bottle of good wine from Jerkis after yer talk!” Taranis looked at his pike, he really wanted to go to the bed with sweet Idelle sleeping on his chest, how suddenly he heard the loud voice of Lotte.
“Stop the one who goes!”
Taranis looked up and saw a monk on the road. The huge hound came to his side, his head slightly down. The Monk was walking slowly, his cassock with a hood was long enough that his feet were unseen and it seemed that the Monk was flying upon the ground. His features was a young man, short small accurate nose and same small eyes, full of penetration and humility, his hair was tonsured. His hands were hidden in opposite sleeves as he crossed his arms; he carried a bag over his shoulder. And there was nothing with him except his fellow traveller. The animal was neither a wolf nor a dog, he was a special kind of huge dogs, which were being accelerated in high mountains in far lands; it was known that those hounds were companions for missioners or travelling monks like that one. His eyes were yellow and his fur was more black than grey, the darkest spot was at his nape; he walked tongue hanging out. When they came close enough that to speak to the guards, Lotte repeated his words.
“Name yourself the one who goes!” Lotte looked at them being ready, who knew what to expect from strangers? He put his pike forward, aimed at travellers. He had to check everyone who came to the gates that was exactly why they were staying here as guards and people were living happily behind the gates.
“Good morning, dear guards!” said the Monk affably and a humble smile appeared on his lips. “I have travelled a lot and find a city at last. My strength is almost done, so I need a little to eat and almost nothing to drink, but forgive me my rudeness, I can’t say aloud as I’m too weak now, if I don’t come across your town I will rather die and my fellow doggie should carry me or eat me! But I’m here and I ask you about a permission to enter into that gorgeous city that to feed myself and my dog and restore my strength lying on a soft bed.”
“Call yerself first and the goal of yer travel,” asked Taranis, staring at the hound; the dog just lay on the ground and look at the guards in a calm way.
“Ah, I apologize, how could I forget to introduce myself?” the Monk gave a slight smile. “I’m Monk, that’s the name and the sense of my existence. My goal is very simple, I left a native abode and now travel that to bring light to places. For now, as I told you, I need a place to rest for a while, then I go ahead to my next star.”
He was speaking and smiling and his smile was so full of kindness, his face was shining and rising sun added more brightness to his expressions, his eyes looked with a lot of hope in the greatest human virtue. He was looking at guards on hold.
“What’s abou’ yer dog?” asked Taranis pointed at wolfhound, who didn’t give any move that he was interested in ongoing conversation.
“Oh, he is my true fellow. Every monk has his loyal fellow, they are our guards, as you’re for this beautiful town!”
Taranis looked at Lotte uncertainly, shook his shoulders, Lotte just nodded in response. There was nothing to be afraid of if the dog tried to make terrible things, he and his master would go to a bonfire. There should be no crime in Fortal, as the law said, and the brave militia was put here for enforcing that law. They had enough people that to deal with a huge dog.
“You can go through the gates, Monk,” said Lotte and came to the gates that to open them for travellers.
He took a key with a lion head on the tip of the key handle and opened the gates. Monk almost knelt, he bowed till the very ground, his forehead hardly touched his knees. Wolfhound stood up, shook himself until the end of his tail and followed his master as if they just continued their trip and no conversation or stop happened. Lotte caught for one second dog’s yellow eyes and for that one second he felt that not the Monk was the master but the wolfhound as the animal had so much power upon the Monk; he seemed bigger and Lotte, not a short guy with his six feet and four inches, felt himself as he was a dwarf but in reality the hound just reached Lotte’s hips. The Monk and the hound came into the town. Lotte just shook his head, we need to change the procedure of checking arriving travels.
“Do yeh think someone else’ll come?” asked Taranis, leaned on his pike again.
“We will see… will see,” answered Lotte musingly, stroking his goatee.
The Monk was going in the town and wolf was following him. Some people looked at them with wide eyes, some didn’t pay any attention. No one stopped him, and he came across the town freely, only once he made a stop near the market. He asked about where he could find a bed. He was given an answer that if he would like he could choose any of local inns, or find an abandoned hut at the edge of the town. The Monk thanked them and bowing, added that he prefered a seclusion and silence, so the best place for him would be the hut. He moved there and stayed there, rarely coming out. Only once or twice a week people saw him when he made his short trip to the market that to buy some food for himself and his dog. Other time Fortal lived as if there was no new citizen. Until the one girl, the daughter of the shoemaker, got sick.
The local doctor was famous enough and he was the only one who knew the secrets of healing. Shoemaker brought her daughter directly to him. But the symptoms were unknown to the doctor. He looked at sneezing girl with watery eyes; her mouth was scarlet and inflamed, her temperature was high and her hands started trembling. The doctor had never seen such kind of symptoms and even his book of healing didn’t give him any help, he just didn’t know what to do! Shoemaker was angry with him, the girl started to see something inconceivable - the red and rainbow ponies, they told her that she had to go with them in Dreamland where she could get whatever she wanted. Shoemaker worried in earnest - something terrible happened with his daughter. The doctor gave him the last advice, after that he thought his career would be done - to go to the Monk. As it was known monks knew a lot of aspects of healing, and also they were taught how to deal with very rare types of diseases. Shoemaker flew out of doctor’s office as if he was a bullet.
He soon found the Monk. He was sitting in front of his door, seemed that he already was waiting for the shoemaker. When the man came close enough for speaking but not to scream, the Monk stood up and said, “You come in time, my friend! I see - one more minute and it will be late for us! Hurry, hurry! Bring her inside!”
The Monk opened the door and shoemaker came inside with his daughter on his hands, not slowing down. The wolfhound, which was lying near the table, stood up and moved to the far corner as the shoemaker stopped for a while, the fear chained him, but then he heard monk’s Hurry up! and stepped forward.
“Here, put her on the table,” the Monk pointed on the clear table at the centre of the room. And the man put his unconscious daughter carefully on the table. Her eyes were closed, she was trembling and her mouth gave strange growling sounds, she mumbled something as if she were at another world.
“Do you know what happened with her?” asked the shoemaker, he was unable already to restrain his emotions so tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Oh, my dear shoemaker, I have to ask you just one question,” answered the Monk while he was searching for something in his bag. Finally, he pulled out a strange dried grass, different bottles and bags with unknown ingredients. Also, he took a mortar and a pestle. “Is there any frog at your backyard? Did you see any?”
Shoemaker was thinking, how that question related to the disease to his daughter? He wanted to ask that yet the Monk, but the Monk cut him.
“Anyway, we don’t have enough time, I think your daughter found one toad somewhere and played with her. But that toad has been unfortunately a poison one, so your daughter was poisoned. You see, some toads have on their backs chemicals, bufotoxin, for example, we call it the God’s breakfast, is it a funny name, isn’t it? That poison is very dangerous, of course, if it gets into a mucous membrane, so I think you have to remind your daughter to wash her hands more than you told her before, if you did it indeed, of course, my friend.”
The Monk finished mixing ingredients in the mortar and turned to the girl. The shoemaker just stood, unable to say a word. The Monk put a little water into the mortal and then poured the whole mixture into the mouth of the girl. She trembled and silenced, convulsions stopped. It seemed that she stopped breathing as well, and when the shoemaker made a step toward his blessed child, the girl breathed softly.
“My darlin’, my little bird,” knelt the shoemaker.
“She just fell asleep now,’ said the Monk, “everything will be alright with her, you have nothing to worry about. She needs a rest and good warm food, better thin chicken broth, do you have it?”
“Ah, yes, my wife can make it,” answered the shoemaker, he still couldn’t believe in what happened just now. “You saved my daughter,” he finally said. He looked at the Monk with eyes full of love. “Oh, you saved my daughter,’ he knelt in front of the Monk.
“Oh, stop it, sir, it’s my duty!” said the Monk and took him by his hands, raised him. “You are a very good man!”
“Just like you! Please, if you need shoes, you can have them free at my shoe store! You’re welcome anytime!”
The Monk thanked the shoemaker, and the shoemaker took his daughter, which now was sleeping sweetly and sucking her thumb now. At the door he bowed and left the house; the wolfhound came back to his spot near the table, his yellow eyes showed complete indifference and indolence.
When the shoemaker returned to his home, his wife at once ran out to meet him, she hadn’t been at home when it had happened, so she had been working at the market, selling some shoes from the previous season by lower prices. The shoemaker gave his wife the words of the Monk, his wife thanked God that He send them such a kind and a wise man as the Monk. She put some seeds at the small altar, which was at the corner of their house and told her husband to go to the market - she was going to cook soup as she was told by her husband according to words of the Monk; the shoemaker went to the market that to buy a chicken as he was told to do by the Monk and his wife. At the market, he was telling everyone about the miraculous healing of his daughter. He told at each trade tent that the Monk had wrested his daughter from the claws of the death itself. With eyes full of love to his saviour he glorified his spirit and knowledge. And people listened to him, not all of them, but even if they made laughs on him, deep inside they were thinking of his words and wondered could the Monk help them with their problems.
On the next morning there came a knock on the Monk’s door. A woman came, which had a disease from her very birth - one of her legs stopped growing. The Monk invited the woman to enter. He observed the leg, nodded and started to make something on his table. The woman was afraid of feeling if she was doing anything wrong, something against the God’s will, but she persuaded herself that everything was alright, because the Monk (as usually monks should be) was a God’s man. She trusted him the healing of her life’s curse, her eternal disease. Then the Monk poured a liquid into the cup and held out his hand with the cup to her. “Drink it,” he said. And she drunk. Black mirror came.
The woman didn’t understand what happened, but as it seemed for her, a moment passed when she opened her eyes. She felt that she was laying on a quite comfortable bed and looked at the ceiling. At the joint of a wall and a plank, there was a cobweb with a small spider, who was waiting for its victim. She turned her head and saw the wolfhound, he was looking at her as if he was waiting for her awaken and his task was to inform the Monk about her awakening. It happened then, the door burst open and the Monk came in. He was glad that she woke up, for her everything was like in a fog. And only after the Monk’s question how she felt herself and what was her feel about her leg, she remembered why she had come to him. She sat bolt upright and stared at her leg. She blinked once and twice, and for the third time, but nothing changed - she had two normal legs! She cried, she even didn’t know that she had so many tears in such a small body as hers. She cried, sobbed and mumbled words of gratitude to the miracle of the healing of the Monk. He just smiled shyly and answered that it was part of his job and he didn’t even deserve it.
Day after day, people reached the Monk’s hut. They came in the morning and in the evening, and even when a new man came to the hut there were already, at least, three more persons, waiting for their turn. People were drawn to him from every edge of Fortal. They visited him not only with their physical diseases but with soul’s and spirit’s illnesses. And everybody got their help, everyone left the hut with the big sensation of happiness and belief that everything would be so well as it was never before in his or her life. The Monk helped everybody; now he got so many citizens asking for help that he was taking them without any interruption or it seemed so for people: They noticed that the Monk didn’t even eat and sleep and some of them started to believe that only the great spirit of the true holiness maintained him.
At the cell of bishop Rames Idris was happening a very hot conversation. The bishop Kir Thando was circling in the small room and waving his arms, he was excited and the sweat already covered his forehead. His brother merely was sitting on his uncomfortable rough wooden chair and followed his walking brother by his big dark eyes.
“Do you believe them? How we didn’t know about that? In the town so small that we know how rats are copulating! Just think about it! A housekeeper woman, not our God’s children, but the blind-deaf-mute old woman told me that! How did she know? And you know how she told me that? By voice! She told me, using her mouth, she gave sounds, do you understand? Sounds! Oh, God bless us all! We’re losing all our people! All our money. They all run to him, not to us, we lost our power.” Kir Thando sat on the bed and covered his head with his big fat hands.
Bishop Rames Idris was looking attentively and then said with a voice so low and soft, as if it was a wave, which came out of the ocean from the very depth, it mixed with the wind, which crossed the field and ran through the forest, catching voices of trees.
“I understand you, brother. But I do not share your emotional way of reaction,” he stood up and touched bishop Kir Thando. He looked at him with watery eyes. Rames just continued, “we don’t lose our parish as you think. We just get new parishioners! We’ll come to him, we’ll invite him to make such sermons, that is how new people will come to us because they follow him. He will be a new fresh breath for our church, we use him instead of destroying him. We win more than you can even imagine, my friend. He will make us rich.” Rames smiled at the face of his friend, and Kir gave him a smile back. They hugged each other and kissed hard in lips, they agreed that would be a good plan - to invite the Monk to become a part of their Sunday’s service.
Next day bishop Thando and bishop Idris came to the door of the Monk’s hut. When they came they were surprised and thought it was all as a mirage, but it was not. In front of the hut were staying around fifty people! At such an early time they already were at the door of their new church. Bishops greeted people and said that they came that to speak with a man, who pretended to be a blessed one. But they encountered with unexpected reaction - people all at once started to scream on their dearests, and so lovely before, bishops that if they wanted to meet with the Monk they had to go at the end of the line and wait for their turn. Bishops fell into a stupor, they didn’t understand that reaction, they looked at those people and didn’t recognize them - they saw embittered people, which took the most important Grail in their life. Bishops decided not to argue with an angry crowd and went at the end of the queue. They waited for their turn humbly as befits people of holy spirit.
When their turn came they entered the hut in silence. They were surprised how poor the hut was looking inside, where stood only wooden table and the bench, at the far end, was a small furnace, which served as a heater and, maybe, a bed in times of cold nights. The Monk was sitting at the table and wrote something, under the table was laying the hound, his eyes closed. The Monk greeted bishops with the smile and said how he was glad that they finally found a moment to come to him. He wanted to make a visit them a very long time, but as he was busy (bishops nodded) he couldn’t do that. Bishop Thando and bishop Idris were sat. They were talking a lot and they were amazed by Monk’s speeches. They exchanged glances and understood each other with no words spoken aloud - the Monk was exactly the person that they needed for their parish. Each of them already counted the money inside of the head, they were grateful to the faith that it sent them such a good exemplar of an orator. They invited him to come and make a sermon on upcoming Sunday. The Monk silenced; bishops feared that he was going to deny their offer and Kir already was trying to figure out arguments that to convince him to consent, how again the Monk surprised them - he agreed! Their joy knew no bounds! They thanked him and left the hut. When bishop Idris was closing the door behind them and bend down, because shoal was too low for him, he noticed that the wolfhound was watching them by his yellow eyes. Rames Idris just smiled and closed the door behind.
The church at Fortal never had so many people at its threshold like that Sunday when the Monk stepped on the tribune that to say his speech. It seemed that all the town gathered at the door of the church. Bishop Kir was so worrying that was sweating twice his normal condition. And bishop Rames (prayers for his forethought - he had hired more sextons for work that day) with twenty other sextons just ran between rows and send round the hats as much as possible. And it was so, the whole town was here. At the first row, in the section for noble people of the town, was sitting the governor Bish-O-Popaluk. He was staring at the Monk and was taken by the magical voice of the speechmaker. So many clever words about life and love, relations in the family and between people, questions and answers of the life, which were laying just right on the surface! It was so obvious that was so funny that Mr. Popaluk couldn’t hold his smile. He decided no matter what but make the Monk a part of his noble court.
Mr. Slake woke up one day and bottle fell with a loud noise. Mr. Slake didn’t remember where he had been last night and what had happened at all. He even couldn’t catch his name at the beginning. He sat on the dirty bed and shook his head. The black mirror of his memory and multicolour stains in front of his eyes didn’t want to leave him. He stood up and poured water from the jag into the glass, drunk it till the last sip, then poured again, and again finished water till the very bottom of the glass. Then he stopped on his way to pour one more glass of water and frozen for one moment with a glass in one hand and a jag in another, suddenly for himself, poured that jag upon his head. Water flowed down his hair and head and pleasantly refreshing him, tiny torrents of water ran on his neck and by the collar. He wiped his face and neck with a wet and dirty towel and came back to the bed.
What happened last days? Actually, how many days I’ve been in a drinking bout? Questions flew in the air. But he remembered his name and where he lived and more things, and it was already something. Mr. Slake was looking over his apartment. Everywhere was dirt and dust, a broken vase and dead indefinite flowers, newspapers with oil stains, thousands of empty bottles, fish and meat bones. Mr. Slake covered his face, this never happened to him. For his luck, he felt himself well, there was no hangover and his head was totally clear, even if he still didn’t remember his last (How many time I lost?) day. He decided to check his bakeries and ask for some news.
The man pulled out his top hat from under the sofa, blew out specks of dust and put on his head. He smoothed his whiskers and thought that time for shaving came too. Stepping over empty bottles, he did his way to the exit - he wanted to live that place as fast as he could, inside of him came a worrying feeling of something terrible. It was felt as if all his guts was tied in a knot.
When he came out, the sun hit him by the very sharp and light beam. He squinted and covered his face by the hand. He didn’t know exactly what time and day it was, but he decided not to think about it now. So, he did a few steps and tried to remember the direction to the bakery. He realized that the bakery should be in a few blocks away, he just had to turn the corner. He supposed that he should have taken a bath first because he didn’t smell, but odd looks, which people threw to him, gave the cue that he stunk, he went faster.
Soon, he reached the bakery. Mr. Slake pulled the handler and was going to make the first step inside, but the door didn’t open. He was stunned, he rised his eyes and saw the nameplate with clear word Closed on it. He blinked once. He blinked twice, but the fact remained a fact - the door was closed. What’s the hell? He thought. Did I miss something? Is it today a holiday or something? He was wondering. And the best decision came into his mind - he would go to the Aunt Greta and know everything! He turned back and went toward the tavern.
At the Under the wing of Aunt Greta he at once went toward his spot and took his seat. And only then he noticed what he had seen but had not understood what changed in the town: for the first time in the tavern there was almost nobody! He looked at the empty tavern with wide opened eyes. There were only four or five people: one man was sitting at the bar, three others were sitting at the table and silently eating their food, one more woman was sitting at the far opposite corner and seemed she was sleeping with a cup of some dark drink in front of her.
Aunt Greta herself came to Mr. Slake.
“Good morning, Mr. Slake! Another day and I would go look for you. You were the only one who gave me enough income.”
She smiled and sat in front of him. Mr. Slake looked at her and didn’t understand what was going on. And she changed too. He saw it. Her skin was dragged down and lost its colour. There was no more lightning in her eyes and her beauty was fading.
“Where is everyone?” asked Mr. Slake in a muffled voice, he feared to hear the answer, deep inside he felt something terrible happened, something that he already knew.
“Oh, it’s all because of that damned Monk, everybody is going to listen to him at the church.”
“Who? What?” Mr. Slake was trying to digest what he heard now.
“Mr. Slake, I already told you. The Monk, who came in the town around two weeks ago. Everybody fell in love with him and listened to his speech now. Before now he was making his speech only on Sundays in church, but then our blessed governor Mr. Popaluk invited him in his home, his wife became crazy about that Monk, she consulted with him on every little matter! Almost all town is now at the church, listening to him. I wish I could be there, but I can’t leave my tavern in such bad times.”
Everybody was at the church, listening to the Monk, was sweeping inside of Mr. Slake’s head. He repeated, again and again, realizing to where his girl from bakery came and why left her post. He repeated over and over the words that he just heard. Now it became obvious why he had seen so few people on streets, they were all at the church, listening to the Monk. The Monk... He jumped.
Mr. Slake stared with a crazy look at Aunt Greta. A picture of a memory, or a dream, appeared in front of his eyes. The Monk, who was staying in flames, which devoured the town, and the big hound was laying near him. That exact picture, which had feared him so much that he drunk the entire month and almost forgot it. He was shaken, he couldn’t believe that it happened in reality. But, maybe, it was only the power of his imagination?
“What’s wrong with you?” Aunt Greta looked at Mr. Slake, whose top hat fell on the floor (hair was as straw), he was shaking. “Are you alright?” she asked him again.
“Me?” Mr. Slake looked at Aunt Greta as if he saw her for the first time. Then he remembered who was she and why she was looking at him. He asked, “Dear, Aunt Greta, do you see someone or something with that Monk?”
“You mean his wolfhound? So big, with yellow eyes, always follows him and lays near him, when the Monk speaks.”
Mr. Slake tried to hold himself together, but as the entire sky fell on him, he threw himself in the bench and cried, big tears streamed down his cheeks.
“What? What’s wrong, Mr. Slake?” Aunt Greta didn’t understand what was going on with that man and already regretted that she could say something wrong, what hurt man’s feelings.
Mr. Slake raised his head and looked directly into the gorgeous eyes of Aunt Greta, “we’re all going to die, Aunt Greta!” With these words, he lifted from the floor his top head and ran out through the door as if he had seven-league boots. “You need His help like no one else,” thought Aunt Greta and went toward company of three people.
Mr. Slake ran, the pain was in his chest, it burnt his lungs, but he didn’t stop, he ran as fast as he could. Mr. Slake ran toward the church, holding his top hat. At the corner, he stopped and took his breath. Nobody should see his running. He straightened his coat and turned the corner.
There was a great crowd, which stood in front of the doors of the church. He, frightening as a chased fox, leisurely moved forward, trying to not catch looks on himself. Mr. Slake came to the people and watched how they tried to get inside, from where he heard a voice. The voice, which he had heard once and tried to forget. He squeezed into the crowd and could step over the threshold. He saw him now, he saw him so clearly that he thought again it was an obsession, a hallucination, a dream. But he clearly heard the Monk’s voice.
“...we are the one unit! No matter how, but we all will be in His Heavens!”
No, no, no, it can’t be true! It can not be! Mr. Slake felt dizzy himself, he lost his orientation.
“No, no, no,” he repeated aloud, “listen to me, he is a devil! He is a demon, who was sent to kill us for our sins and carefree life!”
“What? What’re yer talking about?” said one of the nearest men, he was shorter than Mr. Slake but had eyes full of pride of himself. “Are you for the first time here? He helped us, all of us!”
“Wait, what, help?” Mr. Slake didn’t understand, don’t they see his real face? “He is a demon! Understand?”
“Go to Hell!” said the short man and waved his head, he turned his head to the Monk, and then threw the last phrase to Mr. Slake, “better listen to the stories, now they talk.”
Mr. Slake looked at the tribune, there came another man; Mr. Slake recognized his face - it was the shoemaker.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! All you know how we have been blessed that God himself send to us his truthful servant! He healed my daughter from unknown poison, which was on the back of the toad! Without his knowledge, she, probably, would have to die, but she stood right here and this is all thanks for him!” There came applauses and the shoemaker bowed.
So, what does it mean?! He really helped them, but he isn’t who he claims to be! I know it, I’ve seen it! But how, how to show it to them? How? Mr. Slake realized that only he knew the exact truth about that Monk. Now he had to solve that problem if he wanted to save everyone.
A voice echoed through the church, “Thank you for coming,” the speaker was bishop Thando, he rubbed his forehead with the handkerchief. “Tomorrow, we will have a great service for everyone! On the main square, our blessed orator will make a speech from the balcony of the governor’s house that everyone desirous can hear and see him!”
Tomorrow, tomorrow, Mr. Slake was thinking hectically, I have to do something until tomorrow, otherwise, he will ruin my city.
He went to his home, he couldn’t think of anything better how to take one more bottle and drink until his face would turn to blue. So, he did it, he believed that it helped him to create a fine plan for his next steps.
He fell asleep, his mind didn’t give him any relax or pictures. Mr. Slake was dreaming about dragons, werewolves, vampires and others devilry. He saw the Monk at once, he was laughing at Mr. Slake and his worthlessness. He stretched his hands and Mr. Slake attempted to escape. He woke up, drunk and fell asleep with no dreams at all. When he woke up next morning with the first beam of the sun he already got a plan inside of his head. It was very simple, when everybody came to the main square, he went to the Monks’ hut and watching, he found enough evidence that to convince people that he was right.
Mr. Slake quietly went out from his home and came directly to his bakery that to take some money. But he wasn’t surprised when he saw again the nameplate Closed. He cursed, he didn’t believe that Betty left her position, she might be at the main square, where everyone was going as he noticed (surprisingly, it was too early, the town never woke up at the early time like that). Everybody hurried that to take a better place for great visibility, that to see his idol as close as possible. Mr. Slake then came to the tavern, but no...it was too much! Aunt Greta was closing the door of the tavern!
“What are you doing?!” screamed Mr. Slake. “Dear Aunt Greta, what are you doing?”
“Don’t you see, Mr. Slake? I’m closing the tavern, I want to see that Monk, there is nobody inside, so I don’t have any other business but to go to the main square. And I’m out of time, so, sorry, Mr. Slake, but I have to go.”
And she turned from him and headed toward the main square, but Mr. Slake held him by her elbow.
“Please, wait, tell me, where is he living?”
“Who? The Monk? He’s living at the governor’s house now.”
“But where did he live before?”
“Mr. Slake, alas, yer a drunken man, but I appreciate yer service, you brought me a good income at those times,” she sighed, “at the day when he arrived he took his place at the old hut of Todd Budhler.”
“Oh, thank you, Aunt Greta, thank you, I owe you too much!”
And he ran, it didn’t matter to say more words, Aunt Greta forgot at once about their conversation, because her legs already carried her toward the main square and her mind was in the fog of adoration to her idol and God.
The hut was at the far end of the town in the area, which was already forgotten. Time-to-time newcomers lived here for a while, but after week they moved somewhere else in the town. That part of Fortal, prone to oblivion, was the first build part of the town, and it was the first part, which people left after they found magnificent treasures of the Mountain.
Mr. Slake found the hut quickly and took the door handle, how then he thought that maybe the wolf could be still here. So, he decided to walk around the hut and entered from its back door. So, he did indeed. He tiptoed and looked through the slit in the boarded up window. For his luck, nobody was in the hut and Mr. Slake breathed easier.
He broke the board and entered through the window. At the hut he found nothing but the table and the old bench, at the corner was a stove. Something should be here! He started to look around, very slowly that did not miss anything, he moved step by step. He noticed each speck of dust, he found some herbs, hanging under the ceiling, he found small bottles with no liquid inside or a few drops of viscous liquid of an unusual color. Nothing, he found nothing at all. He sat on a bench and covered his head with his hands. But I saw, I saw him, God if you love us, please, help me, I’m not the person that You knew, not anymore. I grasped You send me that vision, if it wasn’t You, so who was? Please, help. He cried, he choked with sobs and didn’t see anyway ahead, how to save people and town, which he loved with all his heart...how to save himself. There came a quack.
Toad, he thought, they already came here to the forgotten place. Nature wants it back. One more quack sound. Toad, toads, toads, he thought, tears didn’t run anymore, how then he jumped on with a sudden thought, Toad! Shoemaker told that his daughter was poisoned by a toad in her garden, but here they’ve never been! Never! Where it came from, the sound? He kept his ears open from where quacks came, moving toward the sound. After couple minutes he pulled out a jar with a black toad inside. Her entire back was bumpy and covered by slim, two beige lines ran across her back. This is it! I found it! Thought Mr. Slake and even jumped of satisfaction. That is the undisputed evidence!
Mr. Slake put the jar under the coat and scampered toward the main square. His head was totally clear, he was sure that everybody understood him, they believed him and he could show the real nature of the Monk. As only I was blessed to see a vision, so I have to be the man who will stop him, he thought, and that thought inspired him, his foot didn’t touch the ground by which he ran - they were above the ground, he almost flew upon the surface. He didn’t notice how he appeared on the main square and The Big Brother towered in front of him.
He hadn’t heard that sound when he scampered as a Mad Dog, but when he turned the corner he was stunned. The noise of hundreds of voices reached his ears and thundered as if The Big Brother fell on the ground. People shouted, they greeted the man, who made his step on the balcony. The whole main square was filled with citizens. Mr. Slake recognized some faces. But they all looked in one direction, and Mr. Slake, squeezing his evidence harder, looked directly at his enemy.
The Monk looked totally satisfied, his face was shining with the holy light, and near him, behind in the shadow of curtains, were standing the governor Mr. Popaluk, his wife with adoring face, she felt eternal love to her new idol and mentor, also there were two bishops and some noble people as they called themselves. The crowd shouted again but silenced at once when the Monk rised his hands in the air, in a zest as if he covered each nape of every man and woman in the crowd in blessing.
“My lights!” he exclaimed and no moment was left behind but immediately the crowd echoed to their messiah. The Monk smiled, he looked at them as they were his own children, to whom he gave birth by himself with a God spirit. “I have to say thank you all! It is your merit, all of you made an effort to that moment, where we became all united as one! As one soul, a spirit of God! As a love, from which our God loves us and through me, through us, he leads us to the Heavens!” the crowd screamed, they rised their hands in a common desire to, at least, make a little touch their deity. Mr. Slake decided that he had to move ahead.
He started to squeeze through the crowd and people turned to him, looking at him viciously. They hated him that he interrupted their conversation with God and stopped their way to achieving the Holy Spirit. But he was staring at his target and slowly moved ahead, he had to be in front of them, they had to know! As far he went as harder it was becoming to move. Nevertheless, soon he was near the front line and when he left everyone behind he was surprised, because he thought that rows would never end.
The Monk rised his voice, as if he felt that Mr. Slake already was ruining all clay castles that he had built so carefully. Mr. Slake felt an ancient fear: A fear that comes when your goal was so close that you could take it without any block, you saw it clearly even if it was still far away, and that was the fear of the future, so attractive chained. Mr. Slake was afraid of responsibility that he would take with that next step...
“People! Listen to me!” he screamed and threw the stone from the ground to the balcony, where noble people were sitting, governor Popaluk with his wife; there were couple screams and crowd paid attention to him now. Curiously some evil eyes stared at him. The militia rushed toward him, they even already caught him by elbows, what a nonsense - to break the law of the free speech! What a hooligan behaviour, insult of noble persons and abuse of rights!
Mr. Slake looked back on the crowd, at people who once were his near fellows, citizens, and now they turned to strangers. Mr. Slake was a man, a jumper, a youngster who looked at the azure water down below and was about to take his step and fell into the warm water, but that moment, which existed before the jump, seemed never end. So Mr. Slake, he was that youngster before the jump, did the step. He fought back to the militia, he screamed, his mouth was still free, but all his others parts of the body were held by the brave militia. Ten intrepid men prevented the dangerous local drunken man to harm the right people.
“People! Look at you! I have to tell you something! I saw him before any of you! Once I returned to my home from Aunt Greta I saw him, staying in the same very spot! He was telling his preachings and Fortal was in flames! He comes not to save us, but to kill! People, I have a cogent evidence!” He tried to break out of iron hands of the militia.
“Let him speak, my loyal hounds!” said powerfully the Monk.
The militia left Mr. Slake, they looked at him like on a thrash under their fingernails, he meant nothing to them, he was Nemo, he needed to be destroyed because he managed to destroy their world of the blind submission and belief in his God. Mr. Slake stood proudly, he looked at the eyes of the Monk, then he turned to the crowd. Mr. Slake pulled out a jar with the color toad, his hands were trembling. The mocking noise flew upon the crowd.
“This is the evidence. You all have to remember the daughter of the shoemaker, and how she was healed by the magical skills of the Monk.” Then it came an approving sound. “Also, all of you have to remember that there are none toads in Fortal were ever seen! The conclusion is clear! The Monk put that toad to shoemaker’s garden, it was his power-grab plan! People, see his true nature, he lied to us and he should be punished! You left your homes and duties just to see him!” Mr. Slake pointed to the Monk. Mr. Slake was inspired and with triumphal gaze looked at his enemy. But the Monk just smiled. He did few steps ahead and stretched his hands upon the crowd.
The crowd gave its approval screams. Mr. Slake bowed, a tiny feeling settled inside of him, he unconsciously already knew what could happen next.
“Let’s say greeting words to our brave citizen, it was a wonderful speech of the man who lost his guiding star on a way to the Heavens. But let’s answer him on his accusations. First, he told that he saw me in flames and that was me who in his grotesque opinion should destroy your town, but it is hilarious, don’t you think so? Let’s remember, how he was returning that night, or better say in what condition? As I know, Mr. Slake you like to visit one tavern, it is not a secret for anyone, and that day as it is well known you came back home totally, excuse me, totally drunk. So, there is a conclusion as you would like to say - you just got very drunk, mister, and do you agree with me, citizens, that everything could be seen when you are drinking all day long? As for this...toad...why you decided that I put her into the shoemaker’s garden? Because you found her at my old home and decided that that is a good evidence? But you don’t think that I am, as a man of God, also study sciences and study everything! If the toad wasn’t in my lab, well, the daughter of the shoemaker probably was laying now under the ground.”
The Monk now looked around, and his eyes changed, they were not good ones anymore, they looked at Mr. Slake as the father looked at a guilty son, but he wasn’t ready to forgive him as a prodigal one.
“People, that man violates all senses and principles of your life, he is an example of an old city, a city when it appeared in front of me when I passed through the gates. I wanted to change everything that I saw here, this poisons and ivy and look at us now, we are united, we are one strength, one fist, which could break chains of yours and now we can walk by free foot toward the best life! But he is only a barrier on your way to Paradise. We have to set him free, out of our city!”
Shouts echoed in the crowd Out! Out! And then suddenly it came to Burn him! Kill him! Out of our way forever! Mr. Slake stared at people that he knew once, and saw them almost every day. He noticed in the crowd Betty, she stood with a crazy look and shook her hands in the air, clenched in fists. No, she is different, it’s not Betty, thought poor Mr. Slake.
“It should not be like that, it shouldn’t be,” he whispered. All his body froze, he didn’t understand what was going on, he just didn’t believe his eyes and ears, how it turned into that strange absolute total insanity! It was all because of the Monk, and his laziness and fear of taking the full responsibility; he was warned long before the Monk came to the gates, but he hid cowardly under the bed stretching his legs tucked to the stomach and did nothing! He had had so much time, but he just waisted it until it was too late. He was so angry with himself and the Monk, that he took one more stone from the ground and already wanted to throw it how suddenly he was stopped. Somebody grabbed him behind and bend his arms. The glass jar fell and scattered into small pieces. The toad quickly jumped to the edge of the platform and then vanished underneath of planks.
He turned his head and with fear recognized that two bishops caught him. With an unprecedented strength and determination in their eyes, they keep him strongly.
“Let me go,” screamed Mr. Slake. But he was not heard, the crowd growled and people echoed to each other. Already not one but several people grabbed him and dragged him to another platform. Mr. Slake kicked up the heels, but men who were carrying him were holding him tight. They carried him till the very end, and Mr. Slake already knew what was that place, he started screaming, almost squeaking like a mouse, he didn’t want such an end for himself.
People put him on the wooden circle platform and tied him to the pole. All people one by one, as ants brought to him sticks and twigs, making a huge bonfire. Mr. Slake looked at the Monk, he had to see the face of his enemy. The Monk wanted him to ask about mercy, but Mr. Slake was stubborn and even if he lost he was going to make it with dignity.
The fire rose. No, he definitely won’t hear my screams, Mr. Slake thought. When the fire licked his legs, he clenched his teeth. The fire went higher and higher. He screamed, he did it when the fire touched his face slightly as it was his mother and not the death itself. The fire took him and left only ashes. The crowd was looking all that time frozen and spellbound, now screamed in all throats - the growl sound of satisfaction. They were crying and congratulated each other that now they made one more step to the true bliss.
The Monk looked at them, he smiled, but the smile vanished at once, he turned back and came into the home while governor Popaluk and his wife were trying to kiss one of his beautiful hands. But he just pushed them away and closed the windows. He had nothing to fear now, he had a lot of things to ponder.
Days passed. The Monk made his preachings twice a week. Then he did three times, after a month, he made them every day. And people came to him that to listen to his wonderful voice.
Once one of them decided to stay for the entire night, he wanted to be the first one who stood on the square and nobody could take his spot at the front line row. He wanted to stay closer as much as possible to his idol and God. That man laid under the statute of the Big Brother. Next day he was the first, but a lot of people who came early saw him. Next day, more people came at the earliest hours that to take their spots. Day by day people came earlier and before the sun rised. Then came a day when nobody went to homes after the Monk’s speech, they stood frozen, they wanted to see him again, for the same very moment they desired to see him forever and that wish became the only one life wish.
Once the Monk went on the balcony for his new speech and saw not people, but as if dying trees, grey men and women were greeting him silently, they hadn’t enough strength that to even say something to each other. The daughter of the shoemaker was sitting at their mother’s hems as most children were doing that. First fell Aunt Greta, in former times she was the prettiest and strongest woman in the town, but now her head was absolutely bold, her nails were yellow and her skin was grey, dark bags under her eyes were darker than the night itself, her breast dried and sagged and she all turned to the skeleton. She wasn’t alone, all people were like skeletons, already dead people, only faith and desire to see their Guided Star one more time fed them and forced them to live. Aunt Greta fell and didn’t rise anymore. To the end of the day, there were more people, almost ten more fell and passed away.
One day there was a sunrise and the sun looked at the window of the governor’s room, where on the bed was sleeping the Monk. The wolfhound lay near the bed, and on the carpet were governor Popaluk, his wife and two bishops. They were dead already, they had died minutes before the sunrise. But with first beams, the Monk opened his eyes and smile appeared in his lips. He sat bolt upright and breathed in full lungs. Then he put on his robe and went toward the balcony.
When he opened it, he already felt what he expected to see. In front of him was the main square full of dead men. The Monk smiled, he did a step aside and bowed till the very toes. On the balcony stepped the wolfhound. He looked at the Monk as if he thanked him for his service and jumped over the railing on the paving stone.
He looked around and went ahead. The wolfhound stalked along among dead citizens, and then he started to whistle as if he sucked the air. From mouses of deads rised tiny balls of azure lights, its hovered in the air for a while and then rushing toward the wolfhound. He sucked them, they all came into his maw. His yellow eyes became brighter, he himself became stronger and bigger. Thus he came till the very end of the square and looked at the statute. The Big Brother cracked and started to fell, then the din thundered. The Big Brother fell on paving stone by pieces. The wolfhound looked at the Monk and the Monk bowed again, then he descended and followed the wolfhound. They went out of the town through the other gate, which led them to the mountain and then to the border of the Kingdom, they left ruins behind and thousands of corpses of people who gave their souls in hope to achieve the better future. They headed their gaze to another town, where still were living untouched souls. Death was afraid of them, they were the Death themselves. And nothing could stop them except one little thing - a fortuity.
When Mr. Slake made his denounced speech, staying on the tribune, he was seen not only angry obsessed crowd but the small girl, Poppy, which hid behind everyone in the corner of the nearest house, sitting there with her only friend - a corn with bushy silk as a hair of a princess, because the corn replaced a doll for her - she was looking at all that obscurantism and did not know what to do. She recognized nobody who was staying here in the main square. She had no place to where it was possible to go or people who loved her. Poppy was the only one orphan in Fortal - the town of true happiness. People watched her, she got her food, but nobody wanted to take her as a stepdaughter and she was living in the area, which was left: Same area where the Monk had taken his place at first. Poppy saw him there, she saw how he was taking a jar with toad and put it at the garden of the shoemaker, the girl was a witness of everything that happened, but she was afraid of the wolfhound, because she felt him; voices, which came every night (Poppy thought that it were her parents) told her that evil visited her town and she had to save herself and warn others, she had to escape. Voices grew but she was too afraid that to leave the town, where she got her food.
Poppy was on the main square at the time when fire ate Mr. Slake. But she escaped earlier, she couldn’t watch and understood that there was no more time to endure. She ran toward the gates and stepped in front of them. They were heavy for her and she tried to open them with all her little girl’s strength. For her luck, the gates burst open and she almost fell, but someone’s hands took her and put on the other side of Fortal.
“Look at yeh, hah! Poppy, what’re yeh doin’ here?” asked her Taranis. “Everyone comes to see that damn’ Monk, but I’m too lazy that to go, and who but me watch on gates and road, ha? Lotte came too, took his wive and daughter, and even Idelle” snorted Taranis. He looked at the girl, he noticed her worrying look and knelt beside her, “What’s wrong, darling?”
“Badman with a dog. He’s bad, we have to warn others, or we’ll die. This is voices said to me,” said Poppy.
Poppy just pressed her doll closer to her.
“All right, as I see everything goes to hell here, and I want to change my job, so let’s go, darlin’, I lead you to another city.”
“But we can’t come back, the bad man!” almost screamed Poppy, when she saw how Taranis turned to gates.
“Hmmm, well, there’s a secret path, between the fortress wall and piedmont, it serves only guardsmen, so nobody knows abou’ it. Let’s go, darlin’.”
And they turned another way, Taranis took the girl on his hands and left his pike leaned to the wall, his sword was on his belt and they went toward the nearest town Holygost.
The Monk didn’t know when he stepped out of Fortal that two citizens reached another city after a long and hard way through the Kingdom. He didn’t know that the Death herself left them, because she was tired about deadmen which came to her by an inexhaustible flow. He didn’t know that in Holygost was an ancient order - The Order of Saint Eleris. That Order established hospitals in the north part of the Kingdom in almost every city and cured people with a special disease, which called Geba. That why those special hospitals were called Elerisais, or sometimes Houses of Geba. The members of that Order had that horrible disease too. Those who suffered the failure to get sick with this terrible disease had to live the rest of their short lives in an unbearable pain. Their skin was grey and dry as they were old men, all in strange warts and no any tiny hair was on the ill body. The knights and the Grandmaster were sick, but instead, knights had a strength of titans, so they were special forces in the kingdom’s army, The army of the dead. They stepped on the field and enemies ran away seeing them. Secretly, that order hunted on supernatural things, demons, ghosts and other monsters and creatures, they were afraid of nothing, they saw every new day their faces in mirrors, the faces of Geba.
When Poppy and Taranis came into Holygost, The Order of Eleris already knew the story of the wandering Monk and his wolfhound. The Grandmaster (he hid his face under the deep black hood) told them an old fairytale about the Monk, who had wanted to understand the true grace of the holy spirit, he had wanted to achieve the immortality. Then a demon had come to him and had tempted him, the demon had said that he could give him what the Monk had asked for. The Monk had agreed and they had had a deal: He had become a servant of the demon in the guise of the wolfhound in exchange for being immortal and he had to give the wolfhound souls for saturation. Thus they had been travelling from town to town, the Monk had used his talents to charm people with his bewitched voice and the wolfhound got their souls.
One day the guards of Holygost with black deep hoods met the Monk and the wolfhound beside him. They came to the gates and asked for permission to stay for one night at the local inn. The guards without any word or question opened the gates for them. The Monk and the demon-hound came in Holygost, the last stronghold and to their death.
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