Marie walked back to the orphanage, crying most of the way. She knew she should be upset that her virtue had been taken so brutally, but she could not get his voice out of her head, crying so bitterly. He never wanted to hurt her, but it sounded like something terrible was killing him. The world of the Graeco was frightening enough, but knowing that they had reason to fear each other made them seem more Human to her.
She paused at the door to the kitchen, as she tried to stop her tears. She had to be strong. Not just for herself, the child inside of her was bound to suffer as much as his father. As sacrilegious as it sounded, she could just imagine Christ begging his father to take his burden from him before being taken away to his death. She prayed that would not be the child’s fate.
She suddenly gasped, realizing this was her child as well. Working in an orphanage, she had a natural instinct to care for children, but now, she was about to be a real mother. Could she leave the Church that had given her life such purpose and strength? What would she tell her superior? She wanted to pray on it, but at the same time, she needed some advice, quickly.
“Marie! There you are!” The nun looked up at the familiar voice at the now-open kitchen door. “We were starting to get worried. It’s dark out, you know? Are you all right?”
“Oh, Anna…!” Marie shed new tears as she reached to embrace her friend. “I need your help, but we must talk in private. I don’t know what to do.”
“Marie…” Anna gaped as she embraced her friend. Looking around, she noticed the stables, where no one would be at this hour. “We can talk in there.” Taking the basket of food, she set it inside the kitchen before leading her friend to their destination.
It took a moment for Marie to calm down again, but when she did, Anna managed to get her to drink some water. The nun told her everything that had happened to her, shocking Anna. Then, Marie expressed her conflict over how to proceed.
“I know what the archbishop thinks of the children of Graeco and Humans, but in my heart, I feel that this child has a purpose from God. The Graeco was a good man, Anna. You should have seen him, heard him. He didn’t want to hurt me, but he also couldn’t allow evil to possess his soul. He died weeping, Anna, sobbing bitterly. Such a good person should have their children brought up loved. Shouldn’t they?”
Anna sat in the hay next to Marie, thinking. For a moment, Marie looked anxious about what she would say to everything she had just blurted out. There was silence between them for a while, but finally, Anna turned to look her friend in the eye.
“You truly believe this Graeco man was a good person, Marie?”
“Yes, he was sad. I just couldn’t turn my back on him.”
“All right, we need to speak with Mother Rebecca about this. We run an orphanage, after all. I’m sure raising a half Graeco child wouldn’t be much more trouble. We already have Graeco and Human alike.”
“Oh, Anna, you’re the best friend I could ever ask for! Thank you for listening to me!”
“No one sees the sanctity of life more than you, Marie. I’m sure that was why the Lord sent you to this man. I’ll always support your intuition!” The nuns embraced with smiles and tears for a moment longer before leaving to find their superior.
Marie continued to work in the orphanage. The children were all precious to her, and they saw her the same. She was a beacon of light and hope to all that met her, and those that called her friend were blessed. With her superior’s approval, she was able to keep the child she carried, knowing he would be brought up with the rest of the children. Her fellow sisters were excited at the thought of a baby coming, but there was an undertone of secrecy they all carried.
By the time Marie’s condition began to show, the local monks that helped with the taxing labor were let in on the situation. While they agreed with Marie’s stance on the child’s right to live, they agreed the strict archbishop must not come to know of the father’s identity. Mother Rebecca grew concerned about how long such a secret could be kept. After all, half Graeco children had unmistakable eyes. It was just after Marie entered her third trimester that the orphanage received an unexpected visit.
“Marie!” Anna burst through the bedroom door. The startled nun yelped, tossing her knitting needles and yarn into the air. “You need to go to the market!”
“I need to what?” Marie gaped back at her dearest friend, bewildered. “I just went earlier in the week, Anna. Must you frighten me into an early labor over a chore?”
“No!” Anna flinched at the word, entering the room and closing the door quickly. “Nononono! We don’t want that!”
“Then why so urgent?”
“You need to not be here.”
“Why?” Marie frowned in disbelief.
“It doesn’t matter,” Anna spoke as if they were about to be attacked by the Resistance. “I’ll help you get your basket, and I have money for you. You just need to pick up something! Anything!”
Marie tilted her head to the side with concern. She had seen Anna get excited over things before, but never with such anxiety. She had always been a spitfire, even after taking her vows, but she held a strong sense of herself. She never panicked.
“Anna,” the soon-to-be mother looked her friend in the eye with sadness, “what’s the matter? This isn’t like you. What has you so frightened?”
Anna furrowed her brow as she looked down at Marie. She had tried to play ignorant, but there really was no way to hide the anxiety built up in her chest. She loved Marie as a blood sister. She had looked out for her when they were children, growing up in this very orphanage. The thought of what might be in store for her friend right now made her want to hide her away, but she knew Marie would never thrive that way. Lying would never sit well with her either. She balled her fists as she readied to confess.
“Archbishop Du Val is here.”
Marie blinked at the statement, pausing to consider the meaning. The one man they had hoped to hide her pregnancy from was now at their door. Rubbing her swollen belly, she stared at her stomach. She had made a promise to deliver this child into the world as a means to honor his father’s sacrifice. However, Du Val had strictly voiced the ruling of Graeco and Human unions. In the world they lived, it seemed backward for a fellow Parisian to think that way, but he held a significant seat of power in the Church. Running away was not an option.
“Anna, thank you for trying to protect me, but I must face him. If need be, I will renounce my vows to become a true mother.”
“It’s all right,” Marie said as she looked up with her usual smile. “I’ll never forget what that man told me about him, Anna. He was a good man, and I’m just sure his son will be the same. You’ll always support my intuition, right?”
“Right…” Anna slumped as she resigned to Marie’s decision.
“Is he here to see me, or was there some other purpose?”
“Someone told him.”
The sister narrowed her eyes at the thought of someone betraying them over some stupid, controversial, grey-area in Church doctrine. What kind of people could live in Paris like that?
“I see,” Marie said as she gathered her knitting project and set it on her bed. “Would you help me up, Anna? My boy has gotten so big. I’m struggling to move about.”
“I didn’t realize,” Anna gasped as she hurried to help Marie out of her chair. “I suppose if Graeco are taller than us naturally, then they are probably born bigger, too.”
“Oh, I don’t want to even think about delivering right now!” Marie waved a hand in protest at her friend, making Anna laugh. “We’ll talk to the doctor when that happens. One battle at a time, if you please.”
The two walked side by side, smiling as they carried on a typical conversation. Aside from the bump under the loose robes, they looked like usual nuns laughing and spending time together. They both wanted to enjoy this time while it lasted, for they knew after this encounter that nothing would remain the same.
As they came to the chapel, Mother Rebecca gaped at the sight of them. Beside her stood Archbishop Alexandre Du Val, a tall, flaxen-haired man of forty. He had quite a reputation among the Church for his quick rise through the ranks and his unyielding devotion to the Church. When amber-brown eyes caught Marie Berger in his view, he did not even blink. His stoic expression remained in place as he stared back at the nun.
Anna gripped Marie’s hand, staring at the archbishop hard. Marie patted her hand, drawing the nun's attention her way. The motherly reassurance still rested on her visage. As much as she wanted to take comfort from it, the nun had a pit of foreboding that she feared would come to fruition if she let go of her friend’s hand. Marie shook her head, as if she could hear the thoughts rolling around Anna’s mind. Anna released her hand, and Marie walked forward toward the archbishop.
“Good afternoon, Archbishop Du Val,” Marie said cheerfully as she rubbed her belly.
“Marie,” Mother Rebecca said in a hesitant tone, “the archbishop would like a word with you.”
“Oh, I am honored that you have come to our humble orphanage just to see me, your grace. Would you like to talk in the chapel? It’s plain, but I find it just perfect for offering up my prayers.”
“That will do,” Du Val replied in a quiet voice.
It lacked any real emotion behind it, as if he were exhausted. His face looked weary as well, but not in a physical sense. He seemed more like a man that had experienced a great deal in his life, and it had tired him down to his soul. He motioned for Marie to walk before him, and she bowed her head in gratitude before turning to head for the chapel door.
Anna approached her superior as they watched the two walk away. They stood in silence, filled with anxiety. As the archbishop opened the door for Marie, Anna held her breath. Suddenly, she heard the sound of beads rattling. She looked down to see Rebecca was rubbing her rosary as she muttered a prayer under her breath.
“Father, be gracious to your loyal servant. Father, be gracious to your loyal servant. Father, be…”
“Do you mind if I sit, your grace?” Marie asked as she walked down the aisle of the dim chapel. “My feet and back have been aching as of late with my sudden weight gain.”
Again, his voice remained low and tired. Marie took a seat in a nearby pew. Settling herself first, she finally looked up at the man with her typical smile, ready for whatever was to come. The archbishop walked down the aisle to stand before the altar. His hands were held comfortably behind him at his back.
“I understand you became with child almost seven months ago. Is this correct, Sister Berger?”
“Yes, it was a bit of a complicated situation.”
“Complication aside,” he said flatly in that empty voice, “I have been told your assailant was a Graeco. Is this also correct?”
“That would mean the child you now bear is a Nephilim, Sister Berger.”
Marie gaped at him. That word was the most offensive term in the Church. It was hateful and harmful. The sound of it alone was enough to make Marie cling to her belly, as if she could cover the child’s ears. She never wanted him to hear that word. Never. For the first time, Marie Berger felt afraid for her child’s life.
“You are aware of this by your pause,” he continued, still using the same tone of voice as before. “You know such a life is not condoned under Vatican decree.”
“I beg your pardon?” he asked, turning to face the nun.
“Why is life something that has to be approved? Does not the Lord make that decision?”
“The Lord passes judgment on both good and evil, and for the children that cause their parents to fall, their lives are no exception.”
“How can you say such a thing?!” Marie’s voice cracked as tears welled up in her eyes. Staring up at the holy leader, she clung to her stomach. “Children are children! They are nurtured to become the best they can be and do the same for the next generation! Their birth cannot take their parents from the Lord’s hand, ever outstretched to us all! To condemn a child, blameless of any sin, is… is…!”
“Is what, Sister Berger?”
Marie gaped back at the placid expression resting on the archbishop’s face. His eyes stood out to her again. Why did they look so exhausted? He did not seem to support or condemn the stance on the biracial children, but that was no better than standing by and doing nothing. Furrowing her brow, Marie sensed this was her test. Could she nurture a child in the face of this adversity?
The man watched the nun for a moment. Her courage was unquestionable, and he had expected no less from a woman that chose to keep a child forced upon her. Blinking, he turned his gaze to the stone tile at his feet.
“You would be correct, Sister Berger,” he spoke after an unsettling pause.
Marie gawked back at the priest. If he agreed with her, why was he a firm supporter of the decree? Slumping back into the pew, she felt her heartbeat racing with anxiety.
“I...” She struggled to find words. “I don’t understand, your grace.”
“Do you believe that children born of man and Graeco are addressed in scripture?”
“I know the Vatican drew the parallel from Genesis,” she admitted.
“That was the only explanation the leaders could find to offer our people,” Du Val said, turning to walk down the aisle toward Marie. “Since the Graeco appeared, they have been revered as angels from God to oversee us. However, their existence is of a different nature. Do you know any Graeco personally, Sister Berger?”
“Other than the children, no.”
“The Graeco believe they were chosen to be saved by their own divinity.” He continued to walk slowly toward the speechless woman. “They are hardly imperfect and possess a sinful nature as we do. Even among their ranks, they are divided as we are over the children between our people.”
Marie looked up at the man that now stood in the aisle beside her. The weary gaze looked colder somehow, numb. What could smother someone so greatly within that they appeared so lifeless? Both her arms wrapped about her belly, afraid of the truth she was about to learn.
“I am not against the existence of these children, Sister Berger,” Du Val said in a numb voice. “As you know, they are allowed to live in Paris without harm, and against advisement, I have open communication with local Graeco on how to promote this harmony between the three of us. Why then do you think I address the Vatican’s stance of Nephilim with you now?”
Marie could not find her voice. It was true that Paris was a haven for Humans, Graeco, and their children for many years. Reflecting on that, the archbishop might be strict, but he never voiced personal opposition to the union between Graeco and themselves. What was this really about?
“It is the Graeco that we protect you from.”
“The Graeco...?” Marie gawked as she recalled the man that carried her child’s father away. He had said a sorcerer had cursed the Graeco to steal his soul. The nun covered her lips with a tremulous hand as tears welled up in her eyes. “Why...?”
“Under Zeus III, Humans were to be considered lesser animals, and the children of them and Graeco were ruled as a blight and should be neutered to prevent spreading their tainted blood.”
Du Val’s voice was dark, but he spoke with clear articulation. Marie trembled beneath his gaze. His relaxed postured seemed all the more frightening. She did not want to hear more, but he knew she had to understand the gravity of her choice.
“For nearly six centuries,” he continued without mercy or malice in his voice, “Delphi has implemented the Olympian Decree aggressively, forcefully castrating the children of Graeco and Humans before they reached the age of twelve. Girls are sterilized by pumping toxins directly into their uterus, and boys’ testicles are physically severed from them.
“To protect humanity, Cassiel I of Rome made a similar decree to discourage the union shortly after Zeus III. While originally intended to prevent suffering, some have taken the decree to heart. Condemning these children in the same manner as Delphi, that is why the Vatican calls them the Nephilim, the ‘children that cause their parents to fall’.”
"NOOOO!" Marie screamed in terror.
“Sister Berger?” The man frowned at her sudden reaction.
She screeched louder as she shot up from her seat. Hot tears rained down from her green eyes. Reaching for the archbishop’s robes, her fingers clawed at the fabric as she screamed on and on.
As the priest tried to grasp her arms to calm her, it was clear to him she had snapped out of madness. Nuns were not aware of the full scope of the Nephilim situation. Many priests felt it was too much to burden them with. Sisters of the cloth were protected as the sainted Mary herself, so to share such horrific truth was considered worse than the saint’s own suffering.
“Sister Marie...!” Du Val frowned as he tried to get through to the hysterical woman. “You must hear me...! Marie!”
The chapel doors flew open. Anna and a monk stood in front of Mother Rebecca. They gawked at the woman, scratching at the archbishop’s neck and face. He glanced back their way, motioning for some assistance.
Marie screeched when she noticed the monk running up the aisle toward her. Panic sent her fit to new heights, lurching away from both men. Grasping her stomach with fright, she looked back toward the chapel door. Growling with wild eyes, she rushed back to the wall. Ramming into stone, she did not wait to nurse her skull, tearing up the aisle to escape.
“Marie, wait!” Anna called to her as the nun rammed passed her. Knocked to the ground, Anna watched her friend run off as their superior helped her back up. Glaring back at Du Val, she barked, “What did you do to her?!”
“There is no time,” the archbishop spoke over the question. “We must find her before she does something irreversible.”
“Archbishop,” Mother Rebecca asked darkly, “what do you mean by irreversible?”
“Something I cannot remedy.”
The four of them branched off to look for the nun. Anna found herself headed for the stables. Gasping, she recalled how she had brought Marie there for comfort months ago. Could she have fled there for solace?
“Marie...?” Anna entered the unlatched door cautiously. There was an agitated grunting from the back of the stables. The horses were whinnying anxiously. Swallowing the lump in her throat, the nun took a haggard breath as she ventured deeper. “Marie... are you all right...?”
What Anna found in the furthest stall made her nearly vomit. Marie had found a chisel from the stable tools and was ramming it into her belly. The blood and tissue spitting across the hay dropped the nun to her rump. What could she do? Marie had lost her mind, and the twisted expression of desperation further confused her. How was she not screaming in pain?
After a few moments, Marie stopped, slumping into the stall. Anna scrambled to reach her side, pulling the woman into her arms. Burying her face in the shifted veil, Anna wept bitterly.
“Why...? Why Marie...? I thought you wanted to love your baby? Why would you harm him?”
“He...” Marie murmured against Anna’s chest. “... is... safe... now...”
“What?!” Anna balked at the response, looking down at the shocked face. “What are you talking about, Marie?!”
“No... one... will... hurt... my... boy...” A sigh of relief left Marie as she smiled, closing her eyes. “He... is... safe... from... them...”
Anna felt the life slip out of the woman in her arms. Her voice cracked as she touched her calm face. None of these events made sense to her. All she knew was her best friend was gone, running away from something. It was the furthest from fair, and her cries echoed her grief.
After a while, Anna notices more blood pooling beneath Marie, flowing against her shin. Laying her down gingerly, the nun pulled up her skirts to see what was happening now. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of baby feet pressed against Marie’s undergarments. Against reason, she pulled the underwear down to reach the child.
The woman reached inside the corpse to pull the baby loose, quickly severing the umbilical cord with the bloodied chisel. A frightened wail cried up at her. The baby boy had deep, gasp wounds on his right arm and leg, but the chisel had only sliced there, missing the boy’s torso completely. Anna knew this was nothing short of a miracle, pulling the frightened infant close to her chest.
“There... there...” Anna said in a shaken voice. “It’s all right... Aunt Anna’s here...”
The infant’s cries fell to whimpers at the warm touch. She thought about how impossible this was. Marie had been right to believe God must have a plan for the child. Standing to leave her friend and tend to the baby, Anna thought of a name.
“You’re going to be just fine... Adam... You’re safe now...”
... to be continued
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