Chapter 18: A Journeyman's Quest
I was expecting to be shown a large open ward in the women’s wing of the Pilgrims House. The sort of communal accommodations I’d grown accustomed to during my bleak years at Grey Hall. To my great surprise, however, I was shown to a privet room. It was modest, but clean and serviceable. There was a narrow bed made up with clean linens and a warm quilt, a small chest for storing my personal belongings, a nightstand beside the bed, a writing table set under the rooms only window, and a washstand with fresh towels and a pitcher full of clean water. In a shallow closet near the door, I found extra towels and blankets for my use. Before leaving to announce my arrival to the Abbot, Sinjin told me that a Novice would come by in the evening to light a fire in the room’s hearth.
I was sorely tempted to stretch out on the bed and have a nap, but another matter pressed itself into my thoughts. After washing up and changing into the pale green frock that my father thoughtfully packed with my things, I left the Pilgrim’s House. The chapel was only a short walk away. In my many days of travel, I hadn’t spent much time in meditation. Being bone cold, doggedly tired, or in the clutches of bandits didn’t represent an excuse for neglecting one’s spiritual duties yet I had done just that.
I entered the chapel and found the interior deserted and quiet; at this hour of the day, the monks would be about their labors. I made my way to an area near the altar and knelt down on the cold flagstone floor. Once settled, I closed my eyes and opened myself to Unity. The light and love of Unity’s presence surged within me and swept me away.
How long I remained there, I could not say. When Unity released me and I opened my eyes again, I sensed that I was no longer alone in the quiet chapel. Slowly I rose to my feet, bowed to Unity's alter, and turned to see who else was in this holy place. I found a robed figure seated in the first pew, just a few paces from where I'd been kneeling in meditation. Unity's Book lay open in his lap; he'd been studying its truths until I stood to face him.
"I wish it were that easy to get my novices to meditate," he commented as he closed the book. His voice was soft and soothing and I found myself smiling at him. "You are Apprentice Kerri, yes?"
"I'm Abbot Sextus," he informed me kindly and then patted the seat next to him in invitation. "Please, come and sit," he added just in case I missed the meaning of his gesture.
"I'm sorry if I've kept you, I ..."
"Don't apologize, child," he raised his hand to dismiss the rest of my comment. "Unity calls each of us to Himself in meditation when He so chooses. Blessed are those who heed His call and terry willingly in His presence." He sighed before changing the subject. "Brother Sinjin was quite distraught when he came to tell me of your arrival. He was raving about a demon of Chaos masquerading in the guise of a cat, of all things. The whole affair has him rather agitated."
I tried not to giggle, but I couldn't help myself. Sinjin did find Uriel's mental communications most upsetting.
"He's not a demon, Abbot, he's a ...," I paused as I considered how, or even if I should tell the Abbot of Uriel's fate.
"My sire thought highly of the Abbot when he was a young Brother," the cat-dragon purred against my mind. "If there is anyone here that you can trust, it is the Abbot."
A smile curled my lips, causing the Abbot to glare at me with questioning eyes.
"Do you know my Master?"
"I know of your Master," he replied, "I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him personally."
"Several weeks ago," I began with a sigh, "at the last full moon, my Master and the other Master Magi gathered in a remote meadow in the Dutchy of High Glen. The subject of their gathering was the salvation of the last remaining Dragons. I do not know what their working was meant to do, but something went wrong and ... all nine Dragons were ... transformed ... into ... into cats."
A smile tried, with great effort, to twist the Abbot's mouth. I could tell that it was taking an effort of superior control not to give in to the mirth that danced behind his warm eyes. Did he think that I was telling a lie?
"Abbot Sextus, I ..."
He raised his hand for my silence, and I allowed the rest of my words to die unspoken.
"You misconstrue my amusement," he insisted, "I do not believe you mean to mislead me. Who among us can fathom what the Seven Master gather to wield Unity's magical gifts corporately? Please continue your story."
I took a deep breath to center my thoughts before continuing. "One of the Dragons, Uriel, chose me as his Dragon Companion. He remained with me while the others fled to safety. It was Uriel that Brother Sinjin mistook for a demon of Chaos in disguise."
As if on cue, the cat-dragon ghosted from under our pew and jumped up beside me. How he'd gotten into the chapel in the first place eluded me. When I came to meditate, he'd gone off to hunt. The thrum of his purr filled my mind and brought peace and joy to my soul. He butted the underside of my chin with the top of his head and a happy giggle erupted from my throat.
"Your Dragon, I presume," the Abbot interrupted our affectionate reunion.
"I am Uriel, son of Asgeer," the cat-dragon answered proudly.
"I knew your sire," the Abbot replied, "he named me Dragon Friend. Perhaps one day you will do me the same honor." After a brief pause, he changed the subject. "Now that the matter of an alleged Demonic possession has been dealt with, I can move on to other business. Please explain to me why Balthazar sends his Apprentice on a Journeyman's quest?"
"He hasn't," Uriel answered before I could speak. "Kerri's coming here was my idea. In order to harmonize the duality of her magical gifting and progress in her training, she requires a mage's staff."
"Does Master Balthazar realize that you are assuming the training of his Apprentice?" The Abbot crossed his arms and regarded he cat-dragon with stern eyes. "Even as a monastic, I know that hijacking another mage's apprentice is rude. Especially when you encourage that Apprentice to run off on dangerous adventures."
"Please Abbot," I didn't want Uriel and Abbot Sextus to have an argument in Unity's chapel. "My Master sent me out on a, well, a quest of sorts. I'm to go to the High Tempel of Unity and seek out a certain priest there. Once I've spoken to the priest, I'm to find the Master Mangus of Time."
"Then things are far worse than I thought. You've abandoned your Master's quest in order to come here on some errand of your own design."
Suddenly I felt horrid: at the very heart of my vows was a pledge to obey my Master in all matters.
"Where is your Master now?" His question rescued me from the brink of a savage mental flogging.
"I ... I don't know."
When I looked up at him, his expression was one of confusion. His eyes asked the question that remained silent on his lips. With a deep sigh, I recounted the events that led to my hurried departure from Belthazar's tower.
"My Master stayed behind to deal with the Duke," my story ended sadly. I felt the sting of tears as I thought of him and when I blinked, fat wet droplets trickled down my cheek. My throat tightened as I spoke again, "I ... I do not know ... what happened when the Duke arrived."
A reassuring hand came to rest on my shoulder, but Abbot Sextus remained silent. His comforting touch remained as sadness overtook my heart and I sobbed uncontrollably. I missed Belthazar; my Master ... my Father. I didn't want to wander the unknown reaches of Everlast all alone. I wanted to be home, enjoying the warmth and the love that permeated every stone of my Father's tower.
When my sobbing ceased, I looked into the Abbot's face; profound sadness clouded his ancient brown eyes.
"I don't believe he's dead," I managed when the tightness in my throat eased enough to permit speech. "I think I would know ... I mean I think I would have felt something if the Duke has ... if my Master were dead."
"I suspect you're right," Sextus sighed. "The bond between Master and Apprentice is a mysterious and powerful thing."
I nodded as I continued to regain my composure. That first night Uriel and I spent camped on the beach, I refrained from scrying Balthazar because the cat-dragon made a convincing argument against doing so. I continued to avoid looking in on him for fear of what I might find. He wasn't dead, of that I was sure, but I might not find him well ... especially if the Duke had him in prison.
The Abbot stood then, and I followed his example.
"What your asking is highly irregular," he began as we walked together towards the chapel doors. "An Apprentice completing a Journeyman's quest," he shook his head, "it's never been done before. It's above both your rank and your skill level."
"I know Abbot, but..."
He silenced me with the wave of his hand. "Enough, child. You will have your answer in the morning, after chapel service. In the meantime, have you eaten?"
"Not since breakfast."
"Go to the kitchen and ask Brother Orion to fix you something to eat. If he gives you a sour answer, remind him of our obligation to provide Unity's Blessing of Hospitality to all who seek it. If that fails to sweeten his disposition, you may tell him that I sent you."